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Virgin birth found in wild vertebrates
Snake
First time "evolutionary novelty" found in wild animals

Researchers in the US have found a form of virgin birth in wild vertebrates for the first time, after genetically analysing pregnant females from two snake species.

They found that North American pit vipers reproduced without a male in a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis, previously only found in captive species, and scientists say the findings could change our understanding of animal reproduction and vertebrate evolution.

Thought to be extremely rare for normally sexual species, asexual reproduction was first identified in domestic chickens and, in recent years, reported in a few snake, shark, lizard and bird species.

However, all such "virgin births" have occurred in captivity to females kept away from males, and have in general been considered "evolutionary novelties."

Professor Warren Booth, from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, worked with a team to investigate virgin births in copperhead and cottonmouth female pit-vipers, where males were present.

Professor Booth, lead author of the paper published in the Royal Society's Biological Letters, said of the: "I think the frequency is what really shocked us. That's between 2.5 and 5% of litters produced in these populations may be resulting from parthenogenesis."

He added: "That's quite remarkable for something that has been considered an evolutionary novelty."

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News Story 1
 Global pharmaceutical companies were recently called on to pay for a $2bn (1.3bn) innovation fund for researching new antibiotics, in a report by a review team led by economist Jim O'Neill.

Mr O'Neill draws parallels between the banking crisis and the looming catastrophe of a world where antibiotics no longer work. He says that big pharma needs to act with "enlightened self-interest" because "if it gets really bad, somebody is going to come gunning for these guys just how people came gunning for finance".

But who are the real culprits?

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News Shorts
Almost half do no research before buying a pet

Animal charity Wood Green has revealed nearly 50 per cent of the pet owners it surveyed did no research at all before choosing their pet. The charity released the results to coincide with this week's National Unwanted Pet Week.

There are around a quarter of a million unwanted animals in the UK at any one time, according to the Association of Dog and Cat Homes. Wood Green believes this is a deepening problem and has itself seen a 6 per cent rise in stray dogs in the past six months. The charity says lack of research before buying a pet is partially to blame.