Pulse on China's Economy: Steadfast industrial upgrade lifts China's high-quality development to new height seen from NEV's rise

On a recent summer afternoon in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, there were very few people on the streets, and traffic was relatively light. Such a sight hardly showed any sign of a rapidly shifting global geo-economic landscape.

Yet, a closer look revealed a very interesting dynamic: While a vast majority of the cars on the streets are older sedans carrying the golden cross logo of US carmaker Chevrolet, newer, futuristic ones are often new-energy vehicles (NEVs) produced by Chinese carmaker BYD. The slogan - Build Your Dream - was a distinctive feature on the back of each BYD cars.  

Such a dynamic is expected to become even more significant not just on the streets of Tashkent, but also those of other cities around the world. Last month, BYD and Uzbekistan signed an investment agreement to build a factory for NEVs in the country. Globally, China has become the world's biggest auto exporter and 60 percent of the world's total NEVs are produced and sold in China. 

The rapid rise of China's NEV sector globally is a microcosm of the success of China's industrial upgrade and high-quality development. Recently, as some indicators fell short of sky-high expectations for China's economic recovery this year, some Western officials and media outlets continue to relentlessly hype up the short-term fluctuations in an attempt to smear the Chinese economy. However, such smear completely ignores the achievement of China's industrial upgrade and its pursuit of high-quality development - which has not only seen major progress but also shown vast potential for long-term, sustainable growth that will contribute greatly for the world economy, Chinese officials and economists said. 

Still, China's NEV industry did not rise to its global leading position without a lot of hard work and focus. Industrial transformation and upgrade often come with pain. At a ceremony marking the production of the 5 millionth NEV, Wang Chuanfu, founder of BYD, choked up a few times, as he recalled the hardships the company has faced over the years, including facing bankruptcy at one point. BYD is hardly the only Chinese company that has faced and ultimately overcome such hardships. 

SAIC Volkswagen, a Chinese-German joint venture, represents a typical case. The company had been the industry leader for years in the field of fossil fuel cars. But in 2018, as sales of traditional fossil fuel cars plunged, China's auto industry saw its first ever negative growth, and SAIC also saw major drops in sales and profits. The company started its transition toward NEVs.

"Market choice has pointed toward a clear path. Even if there will be pain, we must closely follow the NEV trend," an executive from SAIC was quoted as saying by the People's Daily.

With that, the company shut down a 40-year-old factory, and invested 17 billion yuan in building a new plant that can produce 300,000 NEVs annually. The company also stepped up spending in research and development (R&D), with industry leading investment despite financial challenges. The result: Starting in July, sales of the company's ID NEVs surpassed 10,000 units for two consecutive months, leading sales of other NEVs produced by joint ventures. And the company continues to invest heavily in NEVs in the second half of 2023. 

Such successful stories of transformation are shared by many other Chinese carmakers. Together, they represent the rise of China's auto industry, with leading production, sales as well as innovations. And the rise of China's industry also reflects China's overall industrial transformation and upgrade, which often encounters challenges but ultimately translates into high-quality development - the central goal of the Chinese economy. 

In a speech at a reception to celebrate the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 28, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that to achieve high-quality development, the country must fully and faithfully implement the new development philosophy in all aspects, and accelerate the development of a new development paradigm. Xi also pointed out that the economic recovery is picking up pace, contributing to the steady advancement of high-quality development, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Comprehensive view on GDP 

In the first half of 2023, China's GDP grew by 5.5 percent, prompting many speculations and even dire predictions about the Chinese economy.

Is such a growth rate high or low? To answer this question, a comprehensive look at the new addition and the quality of growth, instead of just speed, is necessary. 

"As the world's second-largest economy, a 1 percent growth today is vastly different from that of the past in terms of absolute increment," said Wang Xiaosong, a professor of economics at Renmin University of China in Beijing. In 2022, China's GDP stood at about $18 trillion, the increment from a 1 percent growth rate is equivalent to that of 2.1 percent growth rate 10 years ago - and that of 5.3 percent growth rate in India. 

Moreover, a 5.5 percent growth rate is faster the 3 percent growth rate in 2022 and the 4.5 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2023 and is the fastest growth rate among major economies. The growth rate is also in line with China's official growth target of about 5 percent in 2023. While many had expected a restorative economic recovery in China, the fact is that over the past three years, the global economy has been deeply troubled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the still ongoing Ukraine crisis. Like the world economy, China's economy also goes through a recovery process and a 5.5 percent growth rate is hard-won.

"You can't expect an athlete to break the 100-meter sprint record, while his body is still recovering," said Wang Changlin, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the People's Daily.

In terms of quality, the 5.5 percent growth rate in the first half of 2023 was led by consumption and investment, instead of investment and exports in 2022. It was also driven by innovation and new growth models. In the first half of the year, the added value of information transmission, software and information technology services jumped by 12.9 percent, while online retail sales of physical goods grew by 10.8 percent. The real growth rate of per capita disposable income of residents across the country was 5.8 percent, significantly faster than that of 2022. China has not just achieved stable growth but also ensured the security of food, energy and industrial and supply chains. 

"One of the highlights of China's economy this year is that the security and sustainability of economic development have been significantly enhanced," Wang Xiaosong said, noting that China's economy is currently very resilient and will continue to maintain the healthy and stable growth.

While some headline figures for areas such as exports, investment, employment and corporate profits were less than impressive, there are also many highlights. In the first half of the year, China's exports to countries participating in the joint construction of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative saw a double-digit growth, combined exports of NEVs, lithium batteries and solar cells jumped by 61.6 percent. In the first eight months, China's auto exports soared 104.4 percent, and ship exports increased by 28 percent. 

"With the continued effect of a series of policy measures, we have the confidence, foundation and conditions to achieve the goal of promoting stability and improving the quality of imports and exports," said Lü Daliang, a spokesperson with the General Administration of Customs, during a press conference in July. 

In terms of investment, in the first half of the year, total fixed-asset investment increased by 3.8 percent year-on-year, with private investment dropping 0.2 percent. However, excluding real estate investment, private investment jumped by 9.4 percent during the same period. China has also taken a slew of measures to stabilize the real estate market. 

Vast potential

"Based on international experience, after an economy reaches a certain scale, industrial upgrading and transformation and development are generally accompanied by short-term slowdown. While accelerating structural adjustment, transformation and upgrading, China's economy has achieved effective qualitative improvement and reasonable quantitative growth, which is extremely difficult," Yang Changyong, a senior researcher from the Chinese Academy of Macroeconomic Research, told the People's Daily. 

Yang said that the Chinese economy can make new breakthroughs and reach new heights if the advantages of the vast domestic consumption are fully leveraged, greater efforts are made in adjusting growth models and structures and boosting growth engines, and a powerful and resilient domestic economy is established. 

China also has the institutional advantage of being a socialist market economy, sufficient macro policy tools and adjustment room, and abundant means and measures to prevent and tackle risks, which ensures long-term stability of the Chinese economy despite challenges, according to Wang Changlin.

The bright prospect of China's high-quality development is also reflected in the steadfast efforts by companies such as BYD and SAIC Volkswagen to transform and innovate. With their advanced technologies and high-quality products reaching every corner of the globe, the world will feel and benefit from China's high-quality development. 

Wu Qiuyu, Zhao Zhanhui and Liu Shiyao are People's Daily reporters; Wang Cong is a Global Times reporter.

Shenzhou-14 taikonauts meet press for first time since returning to Earth

Seventy-five days after having returned to the ground, the Shenzhou-14 crew members met the press on Friday and were in good spirits. They were also in good physical and mental shape, said health experts at the press conference, noting that they have now moved into the recovery observation stage and will be able to return to normal soon.

The recovery of normal body function for the taikonauts after they returned from space consists of three stages - quarantine, convalescence and observation - according to health experts speaking at the press conference on Friday.

The Shenzhou-14 crew has completed the first two stages, showing a stable emotional status and good mental condition, and their body weight has stabilized at pre-flight level. The muscle strength, endurance and cardiorespiratory reserves have been further restored, achieving the expected results.

They have now moved into the third stage of recovery observation. After an overall evaluation, the three taikonauts will be able to return to normal training and work.

After concluding their six-month stay at the China Space Station and completing the first direct handover in orbit in the country's history, Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, the three taikonauts of the Shenzhou-14 safely returned to Earth on December 4, 2022.

It marked the first return mission after the completion of the China Space Station's T-shape basic structure.

China successfully launches flagship cargo mission supporting China Space Station's new operation phase

China successfully launched the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft into designated orbit on Wednesday, achieving a key victory of the first launch mission to the China Space Station since the Chinese crewed space outpost entered a normal operation and development phase at the end of 2022.

Carrying the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft, China's Long March-7 Y7 carrier rocket took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in South China's Hainan Province on Wednesday at around 9:22 pm. After a flight lasting 10 minutes, the flagship spacecraft for the China Space Station new phase entered its preset orbit, which, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), marked the success of the launch mission.

The launcher's developer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), under the state-owned space giant China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), told the Global Times that Long March-7 has executed five Tianzhou cargo spacecraft launches since its maiden flight in 2016, with a perfect success rate.

The CALT also disclosed that following the Wednesday mission, another two orbital launches for the China Space Station would be carried out in 2023.

Wang Ran, chief designer of the cargo spacecraft system with China Academy of Spacecraft Technology (CAST) under the CASC, revealed that the new series of the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft, starting from Tianzhou-6 to Tianzhou-11, would be further upgraded compared to its predecessors, as its cargo capacity has been increased from the previous 6.9 tons to 7.4 tons, which makes the new Tianzhou spacecraft one of the strongest cargo spacecraft in the world. 

It was the first time that Tianzhou spacecraft possesses the cargo capacity exceeding 7 tons, which would reduce the frequency of cargo mission to the space station to three times in two years from four times in two years, boosting the comprehensive efficiency of the space station project. 

According to the CAST, the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft is tasked with ferrying essential supplies for taikonauts that can sustain a three-strong crew's 280 days in space, around 260 different goods weighing some 5.8 tons as well as multiple payloads for scientific experiment and technology verification, to the China Space Station. 

Lü Congmin, deputy chief designer of the space application system and research fellow with the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times that Tianzhou-6 will upload 98 pieces of payload and experiment materials weighing some 714 kilograms to the China Space Station. 

They will be used to carry out 29 scientific and application experiments in four domains - space life science and biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics and combustion science, space material science, and space application of new technology - according to Lü. 

According to developers with the CAST, starting with the Tianzhou-6, the technology team has upgraded the spacecraft system, including making improvement to the cargo cabin of the spacecraft and boosting the airtight cabin's cargo transport capability, which would provide more goods to the taikonauts to sustain a longer stay in space. 

The CAST stressed that through the implementation of comprehensive guarantee measures, 100 percent localization of key components has been realized.

The Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft is also the most versatile of its kind in terms of supporting capability in orbit; it is tasked to not only deliver supplies to the China Space Station, complete the attitude control of the space station combination, but also carry out space scientific and technological experiment. It will also unload waste from the China Space Station before falling back with control, the CAST told the Global Times in a statement. 

The stowage of the airtight cabin of the Tianzhou-6, according to the CAST insiders, has increased from 18.1 cubic meters to 22.5 cubic meters, an increase of 20 percent. The cargo capacity of the airtight cabin increased by 22 percent to 6.7 tons after upgrade, and that for the whole craft has been increased from 6.9 tons to 7.4 tons.

The Tianzhou-6 spacecraft will also deliver some 70 kilograms of fresh fruit for the crew to enjoy, which is twice the weight of fruit carried by the Tianzhou-5, according to Wang. 

"We used to be unsure about how long will such fresh fruit can be preserved in space. However, after learning from the past year, we are now sure about that we have the capability to upload more fruit at a time," Wang noted. 

Tianzhou-6 also delivered 1.75 tons of propellant, of which 700 kilograms will be provided to the space station.

China’s first deep-sea multi-functional scientific investigation and cultural relic archaeological vessel set to be completed in 2025

Construction on China's first deep-sea multi-functional scientific investigation and cultural relic archaeological vessel officially began in Nansha, Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province on Sunday. The ship is expected to be completed and put into operation in 2025, CCTV reported on Monday.

According to the report, the ship has a total design length of approximately 103 meters, a designed displacement of approximately 9,200 tons, a maximum speed of 29.63 kilometers per hour, a reach of 15,000 nautical miles, and can accommodate up to 80 crew members. 

The vessel is a new type of multi-functional scientific research vessel capable of conducting deep-sea scientific investigations and cultural relic excavations, as well as polar sea area investigations in summer. 

The ship has a number of iconic features, including unrestricted waterway navigation, manned diving, deep-sea detection and heavy-duty safety payload capabilities, providing the necessary sample and environmental data for forefront geological, environmental, and biological sciences research in the deep and remote ocean. 

It also provides related discipline guidance and underwater operations support for deep-sea archaeology, while supporting sea trial and use of core deep-sea equipment.

In the future, the vessel will become an open and shared maritime platform for multi-system integration, interdisciplinary crossover, and collaborative innovation in China, which is of great significance for strengthening China's substantial presence in the global deep-sea research, enhancing China's deep-sea archaeological capabilities, and realizing full-scale access to the global deep sea.

Song Jianzhong, a researcher at the National Centre for Archaeology, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the ship would provide solid support for Chinese deep-sea archaeology.

Two ancient ships carrying numerous cultural relics were discovered in October 2022 in the South China Sea at a depth of about 1,500 meters, and are currently undergoing excavation work. 

He Guangwei, deputy chief engineer at the Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited, stated that there is currently no ship in China capable of conducting manned deep-sea scientific investigations in polar regions. The construction of this vessel will fill this gap.

This ship is designed to conduct manned deep-sea scientific investigations in polar regions while also being able to carry out cultural relic archaeology and operations in the South China Sea. The ship has many key technologies, including icebreaking capabilities and anti-freezing materials for polar environments, and related operating and detecting equipment for scientific investigations in polar regions.

Update: 21 people die and 6 are missing due to mountain flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall in Xi’an, NW China’s Shaanxi Province

Twenty-one people have died and another six are missing as of Sunday evening after heavy rainfall hit Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, and caused mountain floods and mudslides on Friday evening. 

Due to the impact of short-duration heavy rain, mountain floods and mudslides struck a village in Chang’an district in Xi’an around 6 pm on Friday. The disaster has damaged two houses occupying a total area of 300 square meters, destroyed three sections and slightly damaged 21 sections on the National Highway 210, damaged three electric power supply infrastructures and left 900 households out of power, according to Xi’an Bureau of Emergency Management. 

Xi’an city immediately set up an on-site command center, organized a total of 14 rescue teams including firefighting and police departments with more than 980 personnel, and deployed over 1,100 units of equipment and tools including life detectors, satellite phones, excavators, and search and rescue dogs, working around the clock to carry out search and rescue as well as disaster relief operations.

As of Sunday evening, 186 residents have been relocated and resettled, three severely damaged sections of the National Highway 210 have been restored, 21 slightly damaged road sections are under reinforcement, communication services have been restored in 49 affected areas, and power supply has been restored to 855 households.

The city is making every effort to seize the critical period for rescue operations, continuing to search for missing individuals restlessly, as well as remove risks to prevent the occurrence of secondary disasters.  

Preliminary investigations showed that two houses in the village were washed away, a with nearby roads, bridges, power supplies and other infrastructures damaged, leaving local residents partially cut off with the outside world. 

Local media reported that as of Sunday Morning, four people had been confirmed dead, while 14 others remain missing. 

The Xi'an detachment of the armed police force in Shaanxi deployed more than 100 personnel to the impacted area. Preliminary search and rescue operations remain underway. 

As of Sunday morning, rescue forces have transferred 81 residents and 11 vehicles to safe locations, and are assisting with the search and recovery of four deceased villagers, with emergency workers scanning an area 65 kilometers in length along a nearby river.  

According to a local villager surnamed Li (pseudonym), flooding and mudslides began following one or two hours of heavy rain on Friday afternoon. Two dwellings swept away by flood waters operated agritourism business, but there was yet to be confirmation whether guests were inside during flooding. 

Local fire department, police and emergency management authorities are working to coordinate rescue efforts. 

Upon receiving the report, China's Ministry of Emergency Management has dispatched a working group to the disaster site to assist with rescue and response efforts and have also mobilized a local fire and rescue team consisting of 207 personnel to carry out rescue operations.

Local govts support state-owned enterprises expanding hiring of graduates, expected to help alleviate unemployment pressure

Many localities have issued policies to encourage state-owned enterprises to play an exemplary role in stabilizing employment and expand recruitment of college graduates, with some provinces and cities requiring no less than half of the hiring quota at state-owned enterprises be dedicated to college graduates.

The office of the Guangdong Provincial People's Government recently published a notice on optimizing and adjusting stable employment policies and measures to promote development and benefit people's livelihood. Showing clear support for state-owned enterprises expanding the scale of recruitment, the notice pointed out that the number of new college graduates recruited by state-owned enterprises in the province this year should be no lower than that of 2022.

Additionally, East China's Anhui Province also issued a notice requiring state-owned enterprises to recruit at least 50 percent of fresh graduates to ensure that the number of college graduates accepted by state-owned enterprises remains stable.

Besides this, the provinces of Hunan, Gansu and Jiangxi have made similar notices. Among them, Central China's Hunan Province requires that provincial state-owned enterprises accept more than 4,700 graduates, while Northwest China's Gansu requires provincial state-owned enterprises to recruit more than 5,000 college graduates in 2023. Meanwhile, provincial state-owned enterprises funded and supervised by the Jiangxi government are set to recruit no less than 5,000 college graduates this year.

The number of college graduates is expected to reach 11.58 million before the end of 2023, an increase of 820,000, according to estimates by China's Ministry of Education. 

South China's Hainan Province proposed in July that state-owned enterprises should play a role in attracting young employees and ensure that no less than 1,000 college graduates are recruited by the end of 2023, while East China's Fujian Province is requiring the implementation of a one-time increase at state-owned enterprises to ensure that the number of college graduates recruited exceeds that of 2022.

An employee at PetroChina's Beijing branch surnamed Li told the Global Times on Sunday that more than 80 percent of new hires at the branch office in 2023 have been graduates. Moreover, a staff member surnamed Zhao with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's research and development center in Beijing told the Global Times that the recruitment rate of graduates at the company in 2023 reached 90 percent.

The demand for state-owned enterprises to expand the scale of recruitment is in response to graduate demand and aims to alleviate the current problem of comparatively low youth employment, Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

According to Xinhua News Agency, as of August 11, the number of college graduates recruited by central enterprises and state-owned enterprises under the national asset supervision system has exceeded the same period in 2022. With the summer recruitment of state-owned enterprises gradually underway, it is expected that the recruitment volume will continue to increase in the future.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council has also made arrangements for the recruitment of college graduates by state-owned enterprises in 2024 at a meeting held in July.

The meeting required central enterprises and local state-owned enterprises to strive to complete the recruitment plan for the 2024 college graduates by the end of August, and gradually provide a batch of high-quality positions in September and October, in order to identify a group of high-quality target candidates as early as possible.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, as of August 11, the number of college graduates recruited by state-owned enterprises under the national asset supervision system has exceeded the same period in 2022. With the summer recruitment of state-owned enterprises gradually underway, it is expected that recruitment volume will continue to increase in the future.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council has made arrangements for the recruitment of college graduates by state-owned enterprises in 2024 at a meeting held in July.

The meeting required central and local state-owned enterprises to strive to complete recruitment plans for the 2024 college graduates by the end of August, and gradually provide a batch of high-quality positions in September and October, in order to identify a group of high-quality target candidates as early as possible.

Court sentences high-speed rail employees for illegally selling celebrity travel information

The local court in Foshan, South China's Guangdong Province, recently announced the verdict in a case involving railway station employees who exploited their positions for financial gain by illegally selling private travel details of celebrities, according to a CCTV report on Saturday.

The Nanhai District's People's Court condemned a total of eight defendants to sentences ranging from 9 months to 3 years and 8 months in prison, along with fines totaling over 560,000 yuan ($87,000). Besides, the eight were ordered to delete the illegally obtained information and issue public apologies through national-level media outlets.

The case dates back to January 2019 when the main defendant, Chen, and other four colleagues leveraged their roles as railway station customer service staff to profit from selling celebrity's information such as high-speed train travel times, seat assignments, station locations, and identification numbers. 

This information was sold to interested parties at prices ranging from 10 to 60 yuan per entry. When Chen was off duty, colleagues assisted in conducting searches, for which they were paid 5 to 10 yuan per request by Chen. He also promoted their services through multiple WeChat groups, advertising their ability to provide such information. While the other three people resold the information at higher prices to others after purchasing celebrity information from the aforementioned five staff members. 

The total illegal gains of the 8 individuals amounted to over 560,000 yuan, while Chen amassed approximately 190,000 yuan in profits. The court determined that Chen and other accomplices had committed the crime of infringing upon citizens' personal information, resulting in both criminal and civil liability.

After the first-instance verdict was announced, some defendants, including Chen, appealed the decision. Following a review by the Foshan Intermediate People's Court, the appeals were rejected, and the original verdict was upheld.

"The Criminal Law stipulates that individuals who sell or provide citizens' personal information obtained during their duties or service shall be heavily penalized," a Beijing-based lawyer told the Global Times.

According to Judge Zhong Qiwen from the Nanhai District People's Court, if citizens engage in the illicit sale, provision, or acquisition of communication content, credit information, financial data, and movement traces, exceeding 50 instances, criminal charges can be brought forth.

Zhong further clarified that as per judicial interpretations, criminal liability is triggered when illegal gains exceed 5,000 yuan. If these gains reach 50,000 yuan, the offense will be deemed especially severe. Specialized individuals handling personal information face stricter criteria; if more than half of their illegal gains surpass the thresholds, they face heightened penalties.

The court underscored the prevalence of personal information breaches in sectors like transportation, express delivery, accommodation, and intermediaries. Zhong reminded citizens that publicly available information still falls within the category of personal information and emphasized the need to protect such data.

In recent years, the media have frequently reported instances of congestion and disruptions in airports and railway stations caused by large-scale fan gatherings during celebrity arrivals. In 2019, at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, the influx of fans resulted in glass breakage due to the crowd's intensity.

A 21-year-old woman, who declined to be named, told the Global Times that she had spent over 300 yuan purchasing a celebrity's travel information which proved to be the true later, from scalpers. However, she is unaware of the source's origin.

New tyrannosaur bridges gap from medium to monstrous

A fossil from a new species of dinosaur is helping to bridge a crucial 20-million-year gap in tyrannosaur evolution.

The key fossil is a 90-million-year-old, grapefruit-sized partial skull from Uzbekistan’s Bissekty Formation. This tyrannosaur braincase, the first well-preserved one found from the mid-Cretaceous period, shows that, although still small, tyrannosaurs of the time already had brain and ear features of later tyrannosaurs. Researchers have dubbed the in-betweener Timurlengia euotica, meaning “well-eared.” They describe the new species in a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The braincase sheds light on a long-standing mystery: how tyrannosaurs evolved in the gap from 100 million to 80 million years ago from an “average Joe” horse-sized predator in the Early Cretaceous to the huge apex predators they became in the Late Cretaceous. “Our study is the first to show that the sophisticated brain and hearing of big tyrannosaurs evolved in smaller-bodied species, long before tyrannosaurs got giant,” says study coauthor Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh. These advantages, he adds, may have helped tyrannosaurs become such successful — and eventually enormous — predators.
Analyzed against a database of other tyrannosaur skulls, the braincase shows that Timurlengia’s brain and ear “are almost identical to T. rex, just smaller,” Brusatte says. In particular, the dinosaur’s long cochlea, a part of the inner ear, is a signature of bigger, badder Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurs. “The long cochlea would have meant better sensitivity to low-frequency sound,” Brusatte explains. That sensitivity would have enabled Timurlengia to detect very subtle or distant sounds, giving the dinosaur clear advantages over other predators.

“Timurlengia fills an important gap in both time and evolution,” says Lawrence Witmer, a paleontologist at Ohio University in Athens who was not involved in the study. “Charles Darwin couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The next step is to determine if the braincase is typical of a mid-Cretaceous tyrannosaur, or just one oddball data point. “We’ve analyzed the heck out of each scrap of Bissekty tyrannosaur bone,” Brusatte says, “so the thing that could move us forward is the discovery of new specimens in other middle Cretaceous rock units in other parts of the world.”

Unknown species hide among Texas cave crickets

There’s no need to trek to the wilds of Borneo or the deepest Amazon if you want to discover a new species. There is at least one — and perhaps more — hiding among Ceuthophilus cave crickets in Texas, a new study finds.

Jason Weckstein of Drexel University in Philadelphia and colleagues weren’t looking for new species, and they haven’t definitively found any. But they have found some curious characteristics among the Texan crickets, as well as genetic evidence that there may be more species than science officially recognizes.

Ceuthophilus cave crickets have split into two groups. One subgenus — also named Ceuthophilus — is full of species that are trogloxenes, meaning they live in caves and venture out at night to find food. (If they get caught outdoors during the day, they hide under rocks.) The other subgenus, Geotettix, are troglobites that can only survive if they never venture out into the light.

Because crickets in the Ceuthophilus subgenus get out of the caves and perhaps even move between them, those crickets should be able to interbreed more, the researchers figured. Geotettix crickets would be stuck closer to home, and their populations would be more distinct from each other, the team predicted. And those differences should be detectable in the crickets’ DNA.

So the team collected 179 Ceuthophilus and 122 Geotettix crickets from 43 caves in 20 Texas counties, as well as a few caves in Mexico and New Mexico. The researchers then obtained the sequences of two genes found on the crickets’ mitochondria. Mitochondrial DNA evolves rapidly and can be useful for studying populations of organisms.

Crickets in the Ceuthophilus subgenus, the DNA analysis revealed, were not moving about nearly as much as the researchers had expected, they report March 3 in the Journal of Biogeography. The crickets might be limited by streams or other features of the landscape. Those in the Geotettix subgenus, meanwhile, are more homogeneous than expected. The genes from one population to the next are more similar than they should be if they were totally isolated from each other and couldn’t interbreed. Members of those populations may be able to travel underground between caves, the scientists suggest.

The DNA also showed that there might be multiple species lurking in the caves that have not yet been officially recognized and named. At least one, nicknamed “species B,” has been known to cave researchers in central Texas for years, but no one has yet formally described it in a scientific article. Nearly all the currently known species in the Ceuthophilus genus, the researchers note, were described more than 75 years ago, and no one has added any new species to the genus in more than 50 years.

So it looks like there is a good opportunity here for someone who loves caves and insects to make some discoveries — and perhaps name a cricket or two after themselves or someone they love. But more importantly, this shows how little we know about some of the species around us.

Five things to know about Zika

The mysteries of the Zika virus are slowly but surely succumbing to the scientific method. Last week, scientists revealed the virus’ structure, gleaned further insight into its ties to the birth defect microcephaly and found out just how little some people seem to know about Zika. Public health researchers at Harvard University released the results of a poll related to Zika awareness on March 29, and lots of respondents flunked. In a survey of 1,275 adults, 23 percent were unaware of Zika’s association with microcephaly and 42 percent did not know the virus could be transmitted sexually.

The survey highlights some general confusion about the facts of Zika, and the latest new tidbits show how quickly researchers are learning new things about this virus. So, let’s take a look at what people are saying about Zika and set the record straight .

Yes, in the case of microcephaly, Zika looks very, very guilty. No, pesticides and vaccines do not cause microcephaly.
A few different things, including viruses, can cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies have abnormally small heads and brain damage, as Meghan Rosen notes in the April 2 Science News. At the moment, there’s no smoking gun to convict Zika as the perpetrator behind Brazil’s uptick in microcephaly, but it’s not looking good for the virus. In Brazil, more microcephaly cases have appeared in places with more Zika cases. Zika has also been detected in the amniotic fluid, placenta and brain tissue of fetuses with microcephaly. It attacks specific cells related to fetal development. Zika infection during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriages and placental problems, plus other neurological conditions, including the rare autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome.

WHO officials noted in their March 31 situation report: “Based on observational, cohort and case-control studies there is strong scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of [Guillain-Barré syndrome], microcephaly and other neurological disorders.”

The evidence against other suspects is much less compelling. Still, a report by a group in Argentina calling themselves “Physicians Against Fumigated Towns” sent the Internet into a tizzy in February with the claim that the larvicide pyriproxyfen, not Zika, was to blame for microcephaly cases. The WHO has since reviewed toxicology studies and widespread use of the pesticide and found no evidence that the chemical interfered with human pregnancy or development. Similar rumors that vaccines or genetically modified mosquitoes caused Brazil’s microcephaly uptick simply lack any evidence, the WHO says.
Yes, you can get Zika by having sex with an infected person.
Though Aedes mosquitoes serve as the primary vector for Zika, researchers have had suspicions for a while that Zika could be sexually transmitted. In 2008, a U.S. researcher developed Zika infection symptoms after returning home from studying mosquitoes in Senegal and transmitted the virus to his wife through sex. This was the first documented sexually transmitted case of Zika.

Since then, more sexually transmitted cases have emerged in the U.S., as well as in Italy, France, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand. Thus far, only men have transmitted the virus, and whether women can also transmit the virus to their sexual partners is unknown. Researchers suspect that the virus may linger longer in semen than in blood — another potential source of transmission currently being investigated. (On March 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a screening test for Zika in blood donatons.) To prevent the spread of Zika between sexual partners, the CDC recommends the usual precautions.

No, there’s no vaccine for Zika, but people are working on it.
There is currently no vaccine against Zika, and vaccines against other viruses from the same family, like yellow fever, do not offer protection against Zika. That said, concern over Zika’s link to neurological disorders and growing case counts in the Americas has jump-started efforts to develop a vaccine. The idea of a chimeric vaccine that could combat Zika and other related viruses like dengue is an attractive research prospect. On March 31, a team reported the virus’ structure in Science, providing potential clues for vaccine development.

Sometimes Zika symptoms are obvious. Sometimes they’re not.
Only 20 percent of the people who get Zika actually notice symptoms. When they do, those symptoms include fever, rash, sore joints, pink eye and muscle pain. Sometimes Zika cases look a lot like dengue and chikungunya — meaning there’s potential for misdiagnosis.

No, sterilized mosquitoes do not increase the spread of Zika. In fact, they could help fight it.
There’s no evidence that sterilized mosquitoes aid and abet the spread of the virus. Some researchers would actually argue that they are our best chance of stopping it, Susan Milius notes in the April 2 Science News. Sterilization, by zapping males with radiation or genetically tweaking them, could reduce and theoretically wipe out a mosquito population. Meanwhile, gene drives likes CRISPR/Cas9 seem poised to make genetic sterilization methods a lot easier, too. Infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria also cuts bloodsucker populations. If all else fails, El Salvador is using the tried and true method of deploying fish to eat all the larvae in mosquito breeding ponds. It goes without saying, but none of these control methods actually aid the spread of Zika.