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*Ancient African cattle first domesticated in Middle East*
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
24/05/2014
Researchers who recently published their findings in PLoS Genetics have completed the genetic history of 134 cattle breeds from around the world.
 
Ancient domesticated African cattle originated in the “Fertile Crescent” – a region that covered modern-day Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, and were not domesticated by ancient Africans, according to geneticists and anthropologists at the University of Missouri.

The researchers, who recently published their findings in PLoS Genetics, has completed the genetic history of 134 cattle breeds from around the world. Prof. J.E. Decker and a team of international researchers compared the similarities and differences among the genetics of many different cattle breeds to determine how the breeds are related.

Their research found mixing of native cattle in Indonesia with imports from India, European and African cattle in Italy and Spain, and European and Asian cattle in Korea and Japan. The researchers also determined that unique American cattle breeds, such as Texas longhorns, are the result of breeding between Spanish cattle, transported from Europe by explorers in the 16th century, and breeds of Zebu, or Brahman cattle from India imported into the US from Brazil in the late 1800s. Decker says these discoveries help advance genetics and uncover important information about human history.

Decker said the genetics of these African cattle breeds are similar to those of cattle first domesticated in the Middle East nearly 10,000 years ago, proving that those cattle were brought to Africa as farmers migrated south. Those cattle then interbred with wild cattle, or aurochs, which were native to the region, and changed their genetic makeup enough to confuse geneticists.

“In many ways, the history of cattle genetics mirrors human history,” Decker said. “In the case of African cattle, anthropologists and geneticists used to suspect that domesticated African cattle were native to the continent, when in fact, they were brought by migrating peoples thousands of years ago. By better understanding the history of the animals we domesticate, we can better understand ourselves.”

Decker also said that cattle breeding is important for animal farmers looking to maximize their herds’ meat and dairy production. He says that understanding the genetic history of cattle breeds is important when looking for solutions to agricultural issues.

“Now that we have this more complete genetic history of cattle worldwide, we can better understand the diversity of the species,” Decker said. “By understanding the variations present, we can improve cattle for agricultural purposes, whether that is through breeding more disease-resistant animals or finding ways to increase dairy or beef production.”

NEXT-GENERATION BATTERIES

One of the most urgent problems of modern society is how to convert and store energy. Lithium ion batteries have been the main energy storage medium for mobile applications for the past 20 years. But there are significant drawbacks for using lithium ion batteries, in particular the low availability and high cost of lithium, coupled with the environmental impact of extracting and disposing of this highly reactive ion.

Now Yissum, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s research and development company, has introduced a novel anode for sodium ion batteries (NIBs; the symbol for sodium is Na), which enables the production of a battery with high capacity, excellent rate capability and good cycle performance. It has been called an environmentally friendly, economic and efficient solution for a variety of applications including electric vehicles and stationary storage for renewable energies. The HU study was published recently in the prestigious Nature Communications.

“The battery market in the US alone is estimated at $14 billion and is projected to grow to $17b. by 2017, said Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin.

“The novel anode will no doubt help propel the integration of NIBs into this market, and Yissum is now looking for potential partners for further development and commercialization of this invention.”

There has been growing focus on NIBs in particular as an energy storage solution for larger applications, such as electric vehicle and for stationary storage for renewable energies.

They are attractive due to their lower cost and the larger abundance of sodium. Still, one of the main obstacles to the commercialization of NIBs is the limited choice of anode materials that can provide high capacity, good stability and high-rate performance to the battery.

The novel anode, invented by Prof. Ovadia Lev of HU’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the Casali Institute of Applied, together with colleagues from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, is based on coating graphene with antimony sulphide (stibnite) nanoparticles.

The new coating technology, also invented by Prof. Lev, together with Dr. Petr Prikhodchenko, enables coating of graphenes with a thin film of nanoparticles at low cost. Tests conducted at NTU showed that the novel composite material performs extremely well as an anode for the new sodium-ion batteries.

The material provides over twice the capacity of hard carbon, retains its charge capacity even at high current rates and exhibits a charge and discharge time of 10 minutes. This would allow fast charging of NIBs in the future, which will enable utilization in applications such as electric vehicles. In addition to the excellent rate capability, the material also shows stable cycle performance, with capacity retention of more than 95 percent after 50 cycles.
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