Everyone knows the air quality is foul in all of China's major cities, right? But a study released by the UN's World Health Organization says China is not the worst country when it comes to the air being a threat to human health. Believe it or not, it doesn't even come in the top 10.
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The most unbreathable air is actually found in Pakistan where thousands die each year due to poor air quality. It's followed by Qatar (#2), which joins its neighbors the United Arab Emirates (#8) and Bahrain (#10) on the top 10 list. All three are among the world's wealthiest countries, which has spurred rapid development and booming construction. In addition, Qatar and the UAR are major oil- and natural gas-producing regions.
Afghanistan (#3) is fueled by traffic congestion in its capital city of Kabul as well as its high poverty level, which causes people to use unhealthy items like tires for fuel.
Many people first became aware of Bangladesh, which borders on India, when a humanitarian crisis there led ex-Beatle George Harrison to do his fundraising Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The populous country also has a pollution crisis: it places three cities among the world's top 20 most polluted, the only country other than India and Iran to have more than one.
Speaking of which, Iran (#5) has a huge problem, with four cities among the world's 20 most polluted. Congestion, traffic, construction, and a booming oil and gas extraction industry combine to make breathing difficult here.
Egypt (#6) may be known for its cultural history epitomized by the pyramids. Unfortunately, its energy sources are also stuck in the fossil-fuel past, which together with its increased industrialization, has made its air unbreathable.
One might think of Mongolia as being the wide open spaces with fresh, clean air, but it checks in at #7 on the most polluted list. Long, cold winters and not a lot of renewable energy sources means lots of coal is burned, and it has significant mining and oil industries. Its largest city, Ulan Bator, has a population of only 1.4 million, dwarfing most major metropolises. But it's one of the world's most polluted.
And finally, coming in at #9, between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is India. With its huge population, extreme poverty leading to squalid conditions and extreme wealth leading to unchecked growth, a couple of handfuls of them make the most polluted list. New Delhi, population 22 million, leads the way with the world's worst air quality.
Other countries suffering from extremely poor air quality include Jordan, Nepal, Ghana and Senegal.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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