Giant panda population on rise thanks to effective protection

Panda cubs born in the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in 2015.

Giant panda populations have been on the rise in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, as the region has taken effective measures to protect the rare species.

According to Sichuan’s fourth giant panda survey in 2015, the province was home to 1,387 wild giant pandas, accounting for almost 74.4 percent of the country’s total. That number was a 15 percent increase compared with 15 years before.

The province had over 2 million hectares of natural habitat for giant pandas in 2015, 78.7 percent of the country’s total, the surveyed indicated. Giant pandas are mainly distributed across 37 counties in Sichuan, the provincial forestry department said. About 61.5 percent of wild giant pandas and 49.5 percent of their natural habitat are under effective protection, thanks to the creation of 46 natural reserves.

Shi Xiaogang, head of the Mujiangping protection area in Wolong National Nature Reserve, estimates the number of wild giant pandas living within the protection station to be around 70. Shi, 45, has been doing wild animal protection work for 25 years. The Mujiangping protection station, where he has worked for the past three years, covers a total area of 73,600 hectares. It has 18 employees responsible for the protection of its panda residents.

Shi said he and his coworkers station themselves in the wild every month except February, carrying out research on the distribution areas, growth and decline, habitat changes and conditions of giant panda corridors.

Great progress has been made in protection over over the past 25 years, Shi said. Now, GPS, infrared cameras, a giant panda DNA database and other advanced methods can provide more accurate information about the lives and status of giant pandas, he added.

By the end of 2016, Sichuan had trained 13 captive-bred pandas to survive in the wild, and released seven of them. In October of last year, Hua Yan and Zhang Meng, two female captive-bred giant pandas, were released into the wild, the first case of two such pandas being released at the same time.

Sichuan has taken effective measures to address the breeding and survival rates of giant panda cubs. Now the province is home to 407 captive-bred giant pandas, ranking first in the country. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda has 231 pandas in residence, while 176 live at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Experts say Moody’s credit rating a ‘misjudgment’

Moody’s Investors Service on May 24 downgraded China’s long-term local currency and foreign currency issuer ratings from Aa3 to A1, but changed the outlook from “negative” to “stable.” Experts said the move showed the rater’s lack of knowledge about China’s policy arrangement for government debt.

Last March, the company lowered its outlook on China’s sovereign credit rating from “stable” to “negative,” a move then-Finance Minister Lou Jiwei dismissed, saying, “We don’t much care about the ratings.”

Last year, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at around 36.7 percent, far below the EU’s warning line at 60 percent and lower than the level of major market economies and emerging economies. The risks were generally controllable.

According to China’s Budget Law, the only legal way to raise funds for local governments is by issuing government bonds within a quota. Approved by the National People’s Congress, this year’s quota for added local government bonds was 1.63 trillion RMB ($240 billion), only slightly higher than last year’s 1.18 trillion RMB ($172 billion), indicating that there won’t be big changes in the debt-to-GDP ratio this year.

For that reason, experts have disregarded Moody’s prediction that the Chinese government’s direct debt burden will rise to 40 percent of its GDP in 2018, and edge closer to 45 percent in 2022.

Moody’s also turned a blind eye to advances in the country’s supply-side structural reform. The agency stated that deleveraging measures didn’t perform as expected, but didn’t disclose specific figures for the core indicators. Therefore, the rationale behind the analysis should be reconsidered, said Chen Daidi, general manager of China Bond Rating Co.

The Chinese economy maintains stable and positive momentum in 2017, with the first quarter GDP up to 6.9 percent, further accelerating the growth rate by 0.2 percent year on year. Moody’s rating was far too simplistic to reflect the real conditions of China’s economic development and government credit, according to Zheng Chunrong of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

Chinese government debts are largely allocated to infrastructure construction, which is fundamentally different from other world governments that use debts for consumptive purposes, Zheng added.

China to implement first ever law on internet security in wake of ransomware attack

In the wake of the WannaCry ransomware incident, China plans to implement a special law to enhance the protection of internet security, Economic Information Daily reported. The law, set to go into effect on June 1, is the first of its kind in China.

The ransomware attacked in more than 100 countries, including China, by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in Bitcoin cryptocurrency starting from May 12. The IP addresses of at least 29,372 agencies in China were attacked, mainly in the energy, transportation, medical, education, and science and technology sectors.

“Although the fallout of the WannaCry ransomware has subsided, we cannot take lightly other new cyber worms,” said an official at the National Research Center for Information Technology Security.

Experts disclosed that almost all sectors and enterprises unaffected in this incident adopted risk control ahead of time. A critical patch was issued by Microsoft to remove underlying vulnerabilities for supported systems nearly two months before the attack, though many organizations failed to apply it.

In addition, the concept of network isolation as the most effective method to maintain internet security should be revisited, as intranet without any protective measures would be more vulnerable, experts said.

Astronomers Create ‘Supermassive’ Map of the Universe

An international team of astronomers has created one of the largest maps of the universe ever put together, and they did it through the use of bright supermassive black holes known as quasars.

A quasar is a supermassive black hole surrounded by a gaseous accretion disk. Many large celestial bodies have accretion disks, where materials being pulled in by the object’s gravity gain spin and from a ring or bubble around it.

When a supermassive black holes gains an accretion disk, the gas moves so quickly and becomes so hot that it gives off unthinkable amounts of power, making quasars extremely bright and easy to spot.

“Because quasars are so bright, we can see them all the way across the universe. That makes them the ideal objects to use to make the biggest map yet,” said Ashley Ross of the Ohio State University in a statement.

“These quasars are so far away that their light left them when the universe was between three and seven billion years old, long before the Earth even existed,” added Gongbo Zhao from the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The experiment was done through the use of the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s (SDSS) Extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS), which mapped the locations of more than 147,000 quasars.

Once they located the quasars, they then dated them through the study of “baryon acoustic oscillations’ (BAOs). BAOs were formed in the early universe: matter moving through the early universe at high speeds that was suddenly slowed and frozen in place by rapid changes in pressure and temperature.

“You have meters for small units of length, kilometers or miles for distances between cities, and we have the BAO for distances between galaxies and quasars in cosmology,” explained Pauline Zarrouk, a PhD student at the University Paris-Saclay who participated in the research, in a press release.

Quasar activity was more extensive in the early universe, and so the team cross-referenced the quasar placement with the BAOs to map distant corners of the stars. “Our results are consistent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” said French researcher with Laboratoire de Physique Nucleaire et de hautes Energies and study co-author Hector Gil-Marin. “We now have BAO measurements covering a range of cosmological distances, and they all point to the same thing: the simple model matches the observations very well.”

“Even though we understand how gravity works, we still do not understand everything — there is still the question of what exactly Dark Energy is. We would like to understand Dark Energy further. Not with alternative facts, but with the scientific truth, and surveys such as eBOSS are helping us to build up our understanding of the universe,” said eBOSS head scientist and Professor of Cosmology at the University of Portsmouth Will Percival.

(Source: sputniknews)

Missing Link? Balkan Pre-Human Remains Identified as Older Than Stated

A research team led by German and Bulgarian scientists has claimed that the genealogical split between the great apes and humans happened several hundred thousand years earlier than originally thought, and in an entirely different location.

Not only did the split happen earlier, but an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, and Professor Nikolai Spassov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, has suggested that the earliest known human lineage originated in Eastern Europe — not in northern Africa as has been widely asserted.
Using state-of-the-art technology to study the dental root features of two hominin fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi — claimed to be mankind’s earliest known relatives — the research team has come to the conclusion that the creatures debuted hundreds of thousands of years earlier than originally thought.

The findings were published Tuesday.

As modern chimpanzees are considered to be humanity’s closest living relatives, the location of the most common chimp-human ancestor has become a highly debated key issue in modern palaeoanthropology.

It has been assumed in scientific texts that lineages between humans and chimpanzees diverged between five and seven million years ago in northern Africa. Recent theories have suggested that climate change in Eastern Africa was a factor in the genealogical split.

Now, the research team, comprised of scientists from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia, has suggested a different, and what they claim is a more accurate, scenario for the history of early humanity.

Using modern computer tomography, researchers were able to visualize the internal structure of molars in fossil jawbones, and identified that premolar roots are “widely fused,” a characteristic of modern humans, according to Böhme, cited by Eurekalert.com.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused — a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus,” stated Böhme.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who participated in the study.

University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of the study Professor David Begun said, “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

Modern homo sapiens, humanity’s species, is thought to have debuted sometime between 1.8 million and 200,000 thousand years ago.

(Source: sputniknews)

Movie Subtitle Tracks Let Cyber Attackers Take Complete Control of Devices

Researchers have uncovered a new digital vulnerability that threatens millions of internet users worldwide – attack via subtitles. By crafting malicious subtitle files, which are then downloaded by an unsuspecting victim’s media player, attackers can take complete control over any type of device.

The discovery was made by Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point. The researchers estimate there are around 200 million video players and streamers currently susceptible to the technique, making it one of the most widespread, easily accessed and tough to resist computer weaknesses yet identified. VLC, Kodi, Popcorn Time and Stremio, the world’s most popular media players, were all found to be susceptible to the shakedown.

New attack vector affects subtitles in major media platforms 📽️. Don’t get hacked in translation. https://t.co/b7vn0J0cIn pic.twitter.com/tyzBK3lyda

— Check Point Software (@CheckPointSW) May 23, 2017
​Cyberattackers typically strike using one of two methods — they either persuade individuals to visit a malicious website, or trick them into running a malicious file on their computer. However, this cyberattack method is entirely novel, and doesn’t rely on human gullibility or error to thump users — instead, the attack is delivered when a film’s subtitles are loaded by the user’s media player.

As the tactic requires little or no direct, deliberate action on the part of users, it’s a dangerous con indeed. Moreover, unlike traditional cyberattack methods, of which security firms and users alike are widely cognisant, movie subtitles are perceived as nothing more than benign text files.

As a result, anti-virus software and other security solutions are blind to a malicious subtitle file’s true nature.

Video subtitles can take over your system via @VideoLAN (#VLC), @KodiTV (#XBMC), or @PopcornTimeTV. Windows-only? https://t.co/JYmQ9yeVem pic.twitter.com/o5ANfSQY4Z

— Adam Katz (@adamhotep) May 23, 2017
​Making cyberattackers’ work all the easier is the proliferation of online subtitle repositories — many media players download subtitles from these resources automatically, meaning cyberattackers need only upload malicious subtitle tracks to take complete control over an entire subtitle supply chain, and in turn, a user’s computer.

These repositories are viewed as a trusted source by media players. Check Point found these sites can also be manipulated and be made to award the attacker’s malicious subtitles a high rating, resulting in those specific subtitles being automatically downloaded by media players.

Given the popularity of third party media players, the scale of the potential problem is almost unimaginably vast — the latest version of VLC alone has been downloaded over 170 million times, while Kodi attracts over 10 million unique users daily.

Cyberattackers can take complete control of any device running malicious subtitles — whether it is a PC, smart TV or mobile device — and inflict illimitable damage, stealing sensitive information, installing ransomware, conducting mass denial-of-service attacks (DoS), and much more.

For Matthew Hickey, cofounder of My Hacker House, the good news is the vulnerability has only just been identified.

In other words, while cybersecurity experts have only just gotten wise to the issue, it’s likely too that cyberattackers have only recently become cognisant themselves — if at all.

“Vulnerabilities are identified almost daily — often weaknesses go unnoticed as they do not cause the computer to crash or malfunction. It’s only once somebody looks for the problem that it is identified. Client-side attacks, like those present with subtitles can be exploited through opening other kinds of documents — the subtitles vulnerability is more prominent as it impacts more than one software package and can be exploited through poisoned subtitle sharing sites,” Mr. Hickey told Sputnik.

Nonetheless, he warns that users should be careful when opening movies from third parties — especially content downloaded from torrent sites.

He urges the public to ensure they apply security updates for all third party media software promptly.

The researchers believe the same Achilles heel is present in almost every media player on the market.

The firm reported their findings to the media player’s developers, and some of the issues have already been fixed, while others are under investigation.

Fixed versions of the media player quartet can be downloaded on their respective official sites.

(Source: sputniknews)

China has huge potential for combustible ice resources: experts

China has for the first time succeeded in mining flammable ice at sea, after nearly two decades of research and exploration, the country’s Ministry of Land and Resources announced on May 18. Experts also pointed out that these are only a small portion of China’s huge reserves.

Trial mining of combustible ice in the Shenhu Sea, about 320 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai, Guangdong province, began on March 28. Experts first tapped the natural hydrate at a depth of 1,266 meters underwater last Wednesday. After that, an average of 16,000 cubic meters of gas with high purity were extracted each day.

Ore bodies of 11 combustible ice types have been found, and the estimated reserves are equal to 150 billion cubic meters. Chinese scientists also estimate that there is an area of 5,242 square kilometers of combustible ice in the Xisha Trough. In other waters of the South China Sea, experts predict the existence of more natural gas hydrate.

China’s successful operation is groundbreaking. Other countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan are conducting research to arrive at the same results, but China’s achievement means its technology in this area is among the best, according to Xie Wenwei, deputy director of the command office at the exploration site.

Combustible ice usually exists in seabeds or tundra areas, which have the strong pressure and low temperatures necessary for the ice’s stability. One cubic meter of combustible ice is equal to 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.

The mining of combustible ice started in the 1960s, but China began its research in 1998. The country first found flammable ice in the South China Sea in 2007.

China to build global navigation satellite system by 2020

China plans to build a global navigation satellite system, which is expected to provideservice to users around the world, by the year 2020.

The country will send six to eight satellites to space later this year, and it will have 18satellites in space by 2018 to provide basic services to countries along the “Belt and Road”route, disclosed Wang Li, China Satellite Navigation System Committee chairman, at the8th China Satellite Navigation Conference on May 23.

The BDS-1 and BDS-2 systems, also known as BeiDou Navigation Satellite DemonstrationSystem, were built in 2000 and 2012 respectively, providing communication services toChinese and other Asian users, said Ran Chengqi, director of China’s Satellite NavigationSystem Management Office. The BDS-3 system will broadcast additional navigation signalsand enhance compatibility with other navigation satellite systems so as to provide betterservice for global users, Ran added.

Clinical tests to be launched for therapeutic leukemia vaccine

Clinical tests for a therapeutic leukemia vaccine will be carried out this year, according toinformation released at the 2017 International Forum on Precision Medicine andTranslational Medicine. The vaccine is expected to raise the five-year survival rate ofleukemia patients by as much as 20 percent.

Leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is a vicious disease originating from stem cells. Thedisease occurs in about four in 100,000 people, with approximately 40,000 new patientsevery year in China.

According to Li Yuhua, director of the hematology department at Zhujiang Hospitalaffiliated with Southern Medical University, the therapeutic vaccine is for patients whopossess tumors. Chemotherapy helps most leukemia patients, but the best method toprevent relapse is transplantation. However, transplant surgeries are very expensive, andchemotherapy is the only choice for patients who have relapsed after receiving atransplant.

The vaccine was mainly developed for low to mid-risk leukemia patients, such as thosewho can’t withstand chemotherapy and those still in need of relief after receivingchemotherapy. Compared with transplants, which can cost hundreds of thousands of RMBfor one treatment course, the vaccine offers a cost-effective choice.

Though the vaccine can reduce the length of chemotherapy, Li emphasized thatchemotherapy is still the primary treatment for leukemia. Li told the Southern Daily thatclinical tests of the vaccine will be carried out simultaneously in seven hospitals this year. Itis expected to improve the five-year survival rate of leukemia patients by 10 to 20percent, which means that 10 to 20 percent more patients will be able to fully recover.