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New Fossils Reveal Giant Rhinos Were Once The Largest Land Mammals To Walk The Earth 

It’s been a widely known fact in the science community that giant rhinos once roamed the Earth some 25 million years ago. While they have long been considered one of the largest land mammals that ever lived, experts were still confused as to how they were able to evolve into the rhinos we more commonly see today.

Additionally, scientists had little to no information about how these rhinos travelled throughout Asia and ended up in the parts of the world where rhinos are most commonly found now. 

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Now, paleontologists have found new fossils that are finally answering some of these questions. The fossils were specifically a part of a new, sixth species of extinct giant rhino, Paraceratherium linxiaense, and where they were discovered has given experts a greater insight into how these giants move across China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. 

The team of researchers was led by Deng Tao from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. 

The researchers uncovered one fossil of a completely preserved skull, jawbone, and teeth with their associated atlas; the part of the body where the head meets the spine. Another discovered fossil has three preserved vertebrae. 

The remains gave the team enough information to create a digital 3D model of this new species so that they can compare them to other giant rhinos. The team was able to determine this newest discovery was a newer rhino species due to its longer and more flexible neck. 

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The fossils were found in Gansu Province, China right at the northeastern border of the Tibetan Plateau. The fossils were likely from the Late Oligocene period which lasted from about 34 million years ago to about 23 million years ago. These rhinos were significantly larger than the rhinos of today, with an estimated shoulder height of 16 feet and a weight of over 40,000 pounds. These rhinos also lacked horns. 

“The Tibetan region likely hosted some areas with low elevation, possibly under 2,000 meters during Oligocene, and the lineage of giant rhinos could have dispersed freely along the eastern coast of the Tethys Ocean and perhaps through some lowlands of this region,” researchers wrote in the study

Researchers determined that, “in the Early Oligocene, the animal dispersed westward to Kazakhstan, with a descendant expanded to South Asia, then returning north to cross the Tibetan area to eventually produce P. linxiaense to the east in the Linxia Basin.”

“Late Oligocene tropical conditions allowed the giant rhino to return northward to Central Asia, implying that the Tibetan region was still not uplifted as a high-elevation plateau,” Deng said.

Scientists Want To Use Artificial Intelligence To ‘Predict The Next Coronavirus’

A team of scientists are working to use artificial intelligence (AI) to work out when another novel coronavirus could emerge. The researchers are using a combination of fundamental biology as well as machine learning to get a better grasp over where these viruses come from. 

The computer algorithm being used has already predicted a multitude of potential hosts that new virus strains have been detected in during past studies, and could potentially be detected in during future outbreaks. The findings themselves have been published in the journal of Nature Communications. 

Dr. Marcus Blagrove is a virologist from the University of Liverpool in the UK who was involved in the study. He explained that the goal of the study was to hopefully get a grasp on where the next coronavirus could come from. 

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“One way coronaviruses are generated is through recombination between two existing coronaviruses. Basically two viruses infect the same cell and recombine into a ‘daughter’ virus, or an entirely new strain of the virus we’ve been fighting.”

Researchers were able to place existing biological evidence into an AI algorithm, which then taught the computer how to spot certain viruses and host species that are the most likely to be the source of the recombination based on environmental stats. 

The team first “asked” their AI algorithm to look at certain biological patterns so that they could predict which mammals may be the most susceptible to known coronavirus strains. This would mean that those specific species are most vulnerable to being the host for recombinations as well. The initial research showed links between 411 coronavirus strains and 876 potential mammal species hosts. 

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Lead researcher Dr. Maya Wardeh was able to use existing biological knowledge to teach the algorithm to search for specific patterns that equated to a correlation between the species and virus strains. 

“We were able to predict which species had the chance for many coronaviruses to infect them, either because they are very closely related to a species known to carry a coronavirus or because they share the same geographical space.”

The Asian palm civet and greater horseshoe bat, for example, were predicted to be host to 32 and 68 different coronaviruses, respectively. And in species including the common hedgehog, the European rabbit and the dromedary camel, the algorithm predicted that Sars-CoV-2 might recombine with other, existing coronaviruses,” she continued.

The scientists behind the study claim that their findings could help target the surveillance for new diseases, and potentially prevent another pandemic from occurring before it even starts.  Dr Wardeh explained, however, that these findings are “not a reason to demonize these species. Spill-over of viruses into human populations tends to be linked to human activities like wildlife trade and farming. But it’s virtually impossible to survey all animals all the time, so our approach enables prioritization. It says these are the species to watch. If we can find them before they get into humans, then we could work on developing drugs and vaccines and on stopping them getting into humans in the first place.”