78 Evolution News Articles
for June 2016
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
6-30-16 What are antibiotics doing to our babies?
What are antibiotics doing to our babies?
Babies born by caesarean section, as well as those given antibiotics early in life, have a different balance of gut microbes than other babies, two new studies show. These differences could put them at higher risk for various health problems in childhood, including asthma, type 1 diabetes, and perhaps even autism. By the time children are three years old, their microbiomes are largely stable, said Dr. Ramnik Xavier, a lead author on one of two related studies published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. So what happens early in life can have long-term implications for health. "The take-home message is that not allowing the immune system to develop to its maximum potential … is not a good thing," said Xavier, chief of the gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. "You need the microbiome to develop normally and educate the immune system in the gut to respond to these microbes and also prevent other harmful bugs from getting in."
6-30-16 Gene editing could destroy herpes viruses living inside you
Gene editing could destroy herpes viruses living inside you
The CRISPR technique is a new weapon against dormant herpes viruses in the body, which cause cold sores and can be implicated in blindness and cancer. Almost all of us carry one form or another of herpes virus, and the consequences can be far worse than the occasional cold sore. Herpes viruses also cause shingles and can be implicated in blindness, birth defects and even cancer – and as yet, we can’t rid ourselves of them. One of our best ways to combat herpes viruses is by blocking the enzyme they need to copy their DNA so that they can replicate. But although this can keep the level of virus in your body down, it cannot wipe out the infection. Worse, it doesn’t work on dormant herpes viruses that are waiting inside our cells for the right time to flare up again. But gene editing may allow us to destroy these latent viruses. Robert Jan Lebbink at the University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands, and his colleagues are developing a therapy that might safely clear certain herpes viruses from the body by messing with their DNA.
6-29-16 Empathy for animals is all about us
Empathy for animals is all about us
Extending our feelings and judgments to animal behavior is part of what makes us human. A live web feed of an osprey nest spawned outrage last year when the bird families began to fail. People often judge these animals based on human standards of behavior. For the first few years, few people really noticed. All that changed in 2014. An osprey pair had taken up residence and produced two chicks. But the mother began to attack her own offspring. Brodeur began getting e-mails complaining about “momzilla.” And that was just the beginning. “We became this trainwreck of an osprey nest,” he says. In the summer of 2015, the osprey family tried again. This time, they suffered food shortages. The camera received an avalanche of attention, complaints and e-mails protesting the institute’s lack of intervention. One scolded, “it is absolutely disgusting that you will not take those chicks away from that demented witch of a parent!!!!! Instead you let them be constantly abused and go without food. Yes this is nature but you have a choice to help or not. This is totally unacceptable. She should be done away with so not to abuse again.” By mid-2015, Brodeur began to receive threats. “People were saying ‘we’re gonna come help them if you don’t,’” he recalls. The osprey cam was turned off, and remains off to this day. Brodeur says he’s always wondered why people had such strong feelings about a bird’s parenting skills. (Webmaster's comment: Animals have limited choices. Most have no social network. They have to survive to produce more offspring. If killing their young is the only option to insure their own survival then that's what they'll do. They also often kick out the weaker young or feed the stronger young more food. The objective is always the same. Increasing the odds of passing on their genes.)
6-29-16 Illusion makes people ‘feel’ force field around their body
Illusion makes people ‘feel’ force field around their body
A twist on the classic rubber hand illusion lets you sense the invisible buffer zone around the body protecting us from dangers invading our personal space. Our brains are aware not just of our bodies but also the immediate space around us. Now, a twist on the classic rubber hand illusion can make people “feel” this space – a sensation they liken to perceiving a “force field”. Neuroscientists have known for decades that our brains contain representations of the area surrounding us, known as peripersonal space. This allows us to grasp objects within our reach and helps to protect us. Imagine you are walking through the woods talking to a companion, when a low-hanging branch suddenly appears in your peripheral vision. You’ll instinctively duck to avoid it: your sense of peripersonal space has prevented you from banging your head. (Webmaster's comment: We are hard-wird to survive. Our unconscious mind senses dangers and our body responds to protect us without us being consciously aware of it until after the fact.)
6-28-16 Vaccines could counter addictive opioids
Vaccines could counter addictive opioids
Shots that harness the body's immune system may help addicts stay clean. Scientists are searching for a different kind of shot to prevent such tragedies: a vaccine to counter addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as the prescription painkiller fentanyl and similar knockoff drugs. In some ways, the vaccines work like traditional vaccines for infectious diseases such as measles, priming the immune system to attack foreign molecules. But instead of targeting viruses, the vaccines zero in on addictive chemicals, training the immune system to usher the drugs out of the body before they can reach the brain. (Webmaster's comment: We also need a vaccine for pot heads!)
6-28-16 Beautifully preserved feathers belonged to tiny flying dinosaurs
Beautifully preserved feathers belonged to tiny flying dinosaurs
Detailed amber fossils of wings from dinosaurs just 3.5 centimetres long suggest they flew like today’s birds. Such finds let us probe how flight evolved. Around 99 million years ago, these tiny dinosaurs had a sticky encounter. Today, their feathered wings look almost exactly as they did when they became stuck in resin. Lida Xing at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, who has led an analysis of the two similar partial amber fossils, says these dinosaurs may only have been 3.5 centimetres in length. Their size suggests they were probably juveniles. The wings are so well preserved it’s possible to tell they were from Enantiornithes – a cousin group to today’s birds. Although this group has a different shoulder structure from birds, their flight feathers are nearly identical, suggesting they flew in the same way birds do today.
6-28-16 Ancient birds' wings preserved in amber
Ancient birds' wings preserved in amber
Two wings from birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs have been found preserved in amber. The finds show that the ancient birds had very similar wing and feather arrangements to living examples. The "spectacular" finds from Myanmar are from baby birds that got trapped in the sticky sap of a tropical forest 99 million years ago. Exquisite detail has been preserved in the feathers, including traces of colour in spots and stripes. The wings had sharp little claws, allowing the juvenile birds to clamber about in the trees. The tiny fossils, which are between two and three centimetres long, could shed further light on the evolution of birds from their dinosaur ancestors.
6-28-16 The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs almost got us, too
The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs almost got us, too
The age of the dinosaurs ended 66 million years ago, when an asteroid six miles in diameter crashed into what is now southeastern Mexico. The world went up in flames. Dinosaurs, along with the massive reptiles that ruled the sea and the sky, perished as forest fires raged across the globe, dust blotted out the sun, and Earth experienced intense heat, frigid cooling, and then more heat. Conventional wisdom states that mammalian diversity emerged from the ashes of the mass extinction, ultimately giving rise to our own humble species. But according to a study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, the story is a bit more complicated than that — and the asteroid that decimated the dinosaurs also wiped out roughly 93 percent of all mammalian species. "Because mammals did so well after the extinction, we have tended to assume that it didn't hit them as hard," said coauthor Nick Longrich of University of Bath in England, in a press statement. "However our analysis shows that the mammals were hit harder than most groups of animals, such as lizards, turtles, crocodilians, but they proved to be far more adaptable in the aftermath."
6-28-16 Parasites wormed way into dino’s gut
Parasites wormed way into dino’s gut
A 77-million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur nicknamed Leonardo may have been infected with parasitic worms. Inside the blackened guts of a 77-million-year-old dinosaur, scientists have spotted a surprise: the once slimy traces of parasitic worms. Needlelike burrows snaking through the stomach of a duck-billed dino offer the first hard evidence that gut parasites infected dinosaurs, paleontologist Justin Tweet and colleagues report online June 16 in the Journal of Paleontology. “Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not,” says paleontologist Anthony Fiorillo of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. “But they’re seeing something no one else has seen before, and that’s pretty awesome.” Scientists had suspected that, like animals living today, dinosaurs probably hosted parasites and other microscopic organisms. “But that doesn’t mean that anybody ever expected to see them,” says Tweet, a former researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder who now consults for the National Park Service.
6-27-16 Shark jelly is strong proton conductor
Shark jelly is strong proton conductor
Researchers closer to explaining how ampullae of Lorenzini detect electric fields. A shark’s snout contains tiny pores, known as ampullae of Lorenzini, which can sense weak electric fields from prey. New research indicates that a jelly inside the pores is a highly efficient proton conductor. Sharks have a sixth sense that helps them locate prey in murky ocean waters. They rely on special pores on their heads and snouts, called ampullae of Lorenzini, that can sense electric fields generated when nearby prey move. The pores were first described in 1678, but scientists haven’t been sure how they work. Now, the answer is a bit closer. The pores, which connect to electrosensing cells, are filled with a mysterious clear jelly. This jelly is a highly efficient proton conductor, researchers report May 13 in Science Advances. In the jelly, positively charged particles move and transmit current.
6-27-16 People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain
People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain
A twist on the famous Libet free will experiments suggests that people who meditate have more access to the unconscious brain. People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain activity – or so a new take on a classic “free will” experiment suggests. The results hint that the feeling of conscious control over our actions can vary – and provide more clues to understanding the complex nature of free will. The famous experiment that challenged our notions of free will was first done in 1983 by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet. It involved measuring electrical activity in someone’s brain while asking them to press a button, whenever they like, while they watch a special clock that allows them to note the time precisely. Typically people feel like they decide to press the button about 200 milliseconds before their finger moves – but the electrodes reveal activity in the part of their brain that controls movement occurs a further 350 milliseconds before they feel they make that decision. This suggests that in fact it is the unconscious brain that “decides” when to press the button.
6-27-16 How the size and shape of your glass affects how much you drink
How the size and shape of your glass affects how much you drink
You drink more slowly from a straight glass than a curved one, but more quickly from a large glass than a small one – effects your local pub might by exploiting. It’s well known that serving food and drink using larger crockery and glasses can make you consume more, but can bars and restaurants cash in on this trick, using it to make you buy more? It seems that they can. A new study found that when a bar in Cambridge served wine in larger glasses, the amount customers bought and drank increased by an average of 9 per cent. This probably happened because larger glasses make a regular serving appear smaller, encouraging people to opt for larger servings or to come back for the next round sooner. It could also be that people enjoy the feeling of drinking from oversized glasses more, prompting them to drink more.
6-27-16 Quantum fragility may help birds navigate
Quantum fragility may help birds navigate
Influence of Earth’s magnetic field on retinal chemistry could aid avian sense of direction. Migrating birds may find their way using sensitive quantum mechanical compasses. A new study suggests that such compasses benefit from the delicate nature of quantum weirdness. Harnessing the weirdness of the quantum world is difficult — fragile quantum properties quickly degrade under typical conditions. But such fragility could help migrating birds find their way, scientists report in the June New Journal of Physics. Some scientists believe birds navigate with sensitive quantum-mechanical compasses, and the new study suggests that quantum fragility enhances birds’ sense of direction. Molecules known as cryptochromes, found within avian retinas, may be behind birds’ uncanny navigational skills. When light hits cryptochromes, they undergo chemical reactions that may be influenced by the direction of Earth’s magnetic field, providing a signal of the bird’s orientation. “At first sight, you wouldn’t expect any chemical reaction to be affected by a magnetic field as weak as the Earth’s,” says study coauthor Peter Hore, a chemist at the University of Oxford. Quantum properties can strengthen a cryptochrome’s magnetic sensitivity, but their effect sticks around only for tiny fractions of a second. Any chemical reactions that could signal the bird would have to happen fast enough to skirt this breakdown. But Hore and colleagues’ new simulations of the inner workings of cryptochromes show that a little bit of quantum deterioration can actually enhance the strength of the magnetic field’s effect on the chemical reactions.
6-24-16 Cities create accidental experiments in plant, animal evolution
Cities create accidental experiments in plant, animal evolution
From clover to lizards, a city’s nonhuman residents evolve in human-scale time. After generations of city life, widespread tropical lizards Anolis cristatellus and white clover are not quite the same the same as their country cousins, though not always in the way scientists expect. Cities have become great unintentional experiments in evolution. Urban life can alter the basic biological traits of its plant and animal residents, down to the taste of leaves or the stickiness of toes, researchers reported at the 2016 Evolution conference. For white clover, leaf taste matters as a defense against grasshoppers and other predators, Kenneth Thompson of the University of Toronto Mississauga said June 19. Variations in two genes let clover booby-trap its leaves and stem to release a warning burst of cyanide when bitten. A little taste doesn’t kill a nibbler but can send it spitting away to another plant.
6-24-16 Reptile scales share evolutionary origin with hair, feathers
Reptile scales share evolutionary origin with hair, feathers
Skin bumps on lizards, crocodiles, snakes resolve confusing debate. Tiny bumps on the skin of mammals, birds and reptiles point to shared ancestral structure of hair, feathers and scales. Hair, scales and feathers arose from one ancestral structure, a new study finds. Studies in fetal Nile crocodiles, bearded dragon lizards and corn snakes appear to have settled a long-standing debate on the rise of skin coverings. Special skin bumps long known to direct the development of hair in mammals and feathers in birds also turn out to signal scale growth in reptiles, implying all three structures evolved from a shared ancestor, scientists report online June 24 in Science Advances.
6-24-16 Princess Leia brainwaves may help you learn in your sleep
Princess Leia brainwaves may help you learn in your sleep
Circular waves that cycle around the brain may represent individual memories of the day’s events, helping you to remember the most important. Newly discovered brainwaves – coined Princess Leia waves – that cycle around the brain as we sleep, may help us remember the day’s events. Terry Sejnowski at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, coined the name after discovering patterns of electrical activity that sweep through the sleeping brain in a circular motion that resembled the headphone-like hairstyle made famous by Carrie Fisher in the Star Wars movies. The waves began their journey in the hippocampus – a region responsible for memory retrieval. From there they propagated to the thalamus, an area that is known to incorporate information vital to our ability to remember events that happen to us personally, before heading to the cortex, which is responsible for complex functions such as thoughts and actions.
6-24-16 Tourists pick up antibiotic-resistance genes in just two days
Tourists pick up antibiotic-resistance genes in just two days
When you travel to countries such as South Korea, India and China, it takes just days for your gut flora to acquire genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. In a matter of days after venturing abroad, we acquire genes that make the bacteria living inside us resistant to antibiotics. Earlier studies had shown that certain genes conferring resistance to antibiotics can be picked up by microbes in your gut when you are abroad. Stool samples from 122 travellers showed that the proportion of antibiotic-resistance genes in their gut bacteria increased from below 10 per cent before they left to as much as 55 per cent on their return. To find out how quickly these antibiotic-resistance genes could be acquired, the same team took daily stool samples and hand swabs from seven travellers from the Netherlands before, during and after they went to China, India, Canada, South Korea or the Philippines. The travellers picked up resistance genes as soon as two days after arriving at their destination.
6-24-16 Bacteria make male lacewings disappear
Bacteria make male lacewings disappear
Green lacewings can be infected with a bacteria that prevents the survival of any males, a new study finds. It’s the perfect setup for a teen dystopian novel: Men start disappearing from the population as many women fail to give birth to living male babies. But for some insects, it’s real life, and when that plot plays out among green lacewings, bacteria are the masterminds behind it all. A species of green lacewing, Mallada desjardinsi, can be found under street lamps near trees and bushes on the campus of Chiba University in Japan. While there are males, females far outnumber them. When Masayuki Hayashi of Chiba University and colleagues collected some of the tiny insects in 2011, they found 57 females and a mere seven males. (Webmaster's comment: This could happen to humans.)
6-23-16 Elderly monkeys choose to have fewer friends – just like us
Elderly monkeys choose to have fewer friends – just like us
As we age, we choose to spend less time socialising, and only with our favourite people. Now we know that elderly Barbary macaques do the same – but why? Do you see as many friends now as you did 10 years ago? Your shrinking social circle isn’t just a human trait – it seems that, as they get older, monkeys become more selective about who they spend time with too. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution is always at work across all species coming up with similar solutions to similar problems.)
6-23-16 Scientists find clue to why mitochondrial DNA comes only from mom
Scientists find clue to why mitochondrial DNA comes only from mom
Protein destroys contribution from dad’s sperm, study in worms shows. Scientists have found a clue to why one type of DNA is passed down to children by their mothers — but not their fathers. DNA inside energy-producing organelles called mitochondria is destroyed in a dad’s sperm shortly after it fertilizes an egg, researchers report online June 23 in Science. A protein called CPS-6 cuts apart the mitochondrial DNA in the male sperm so that the DNA can’t make the proteins that the mitochondria need to power the cell. Lingering paternal mitochondrial DNA might hurt developing embryos, the researchers say.
6-23-16 Male infertility cure will be gateway to editing our kids’ genes
Male infertility cure will be gateway to editing our kids’ genes
The first use of germline genetic engineering could be to treat infertility in men, paving the way for its wider use, says Michael Le Page. Since the CRISPR genome editing method burst onto the scene a couple of years ago, reams have been written about how it could be used to alter our genes and cure disease. Few argue with its use to help treat blindness or cancer. But using it to prevent genetic diseases is far more controversial because it would involve changing the DNA of our children – it would be “germline” gene editing, editing of sperm, eggs or embryos. For many, this seemingly noble goal is an ethical red line.It’s a discussion that has seen much hand-wringing, but what’s often been missing from the debate is the fact that we don’t need to resort to germline gene editing to prevent inherited diseases caused by single mutations. This can already be done more safely with existing screening methods such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of IVF embryos.
6-23-16 New life form discovered in saliva is linked to human disease
New life form discovered in saliva is linked to human disease
Bacteria that parasitise other bacteria have been found for the first time, and are linked to gum disease, cystic fibrosis and antimicrobial resistance. Parasitic bacteria that are entirely dependent on the other bacteria they infect have been discovered for the first time, in human spit. The tiny cells have gone undetected for decades, but appear to be linked to gum disease, cystic fibrosis and antimicrobial resistance. We only know of one other strain of bacteria that can infect other bacteria, but this type, called Bdellovibrio, is a free-living cell that hunts down its prey. The newly discovered organism has very few genes and is dependent entirely on its host. The parasite, which appears to make its host more harmful to humans, evaded our detection until now because it is difficult to grow and study in the laboratory. “They’re ultra-small bacteria, and live on the surface of other bacteria,” Jeff McLean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry in Seattle told the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston, Massachusetts, last week.
6-23-16 New species of bacteria found to cause Lyme disease
New species of bacteria found to cause Lyme disease
Symptoms worse, but so far microbe found only in Midwest. Deer ticks are now spreading a new species of bacteria that causes Lyme disease. A new species of bacteria is causing Lyme disease, adding to worries that the infection will continue its relentless escalation across the United States. Lyme is already the most common tick-borne disease in North America, with new cases peaking every June and July. Not only is the prevalence of Lyme disease increasing, another tick-borne illness — Rocky Mountain spotted fever — is cutting a deadly path through Mexico. (Webmaster's comment: Worldwide there is a huge supply of fresh meat for bacteria to evole to infect and eat. And it's us!)
6-22-16 Fido and Fluffy could unleash drug-resistant microbes
Fido and Fluffy could unleash drug-resistant microbes
Pets with hard-to-treat urinary tract infections on rise, study shows. Studies of drug-resistant urinary tract infections in dogs and cats raise concerns that pets might contribute to the spread of drug-resistant microbes. New studies find a rise in drug-resistant urinary tract infections in pets, raising concerns that companion animals may serve as microbe reservoirs that could contribute to the spread of potential superbugs. About four in 10 U.S. households own dogs, which sleep with us, eat off our plates, lick our faces and leave plenty of poop to scoop. Cat ownership is nearly as prevalent. It’s not clear whether pets are picking up the resistant microbes from their owners, or vice versa.
6-22-16 First human CRISPR trial given go-ahead: your questions answered
First human CRISPR trial given go-ahead: your questions answered
The first human trial involving the revolutionary CRISPR genome editing technique could start before the year is out. New Scientist explains what it involves. The CRISPR gene editing revolution is happening even faster than we expected. Many thought human trials of therapies using the technique were still years away. But yesterday, a US federal committee gave its nod of approval – meaning the first trial could start later this year. The therapy is designed to treat cancer but the main purpose of this first trial is safety. If it succeeds, it will encourage many other groups to start testing treatments that involve CRISPR.
6-22-16 Electric fields could help us wage war on destructive feral pigs
Electric fields could help us wage war on destructive feral pigs
Feral pigs are out of control across the globe, but the discovery that swine have a magnetic sense suggests messing with their internal compass could help. Many organisms ranging from birds and bees to bacteria are known to have a magnetic sense that helps them navigate. But now it seems swine sense Earth’s magnetic field too – a finding that could help us win the fight against out-of-control feral pigs. Pascal Malkemper at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and his colleagues made this discovery by observing more than 1600 wild boar in the Czech Republic, and more than 1300 warthogs in six African nations. Estimating the direction each animal was pointing in, the biologists found that, on average, they lined up closely with the north-south axis. And it’s not just how they stand – they also found that wild boar beds face north or south, with a ridge at one end for it to rest its head. Altogether, the team suggests this shows these swine species have a strong sense of Earth’s magnetic fields.
6-21-16 Hundreds of genes seen sparking to life two days after death
Hundreds of genes seen sparking to life two days after death
The discovery that many genes are still working up to 48 hours after death has implications for organ transplants, forensics and our very definition of death. When a doctor declares a person dead, some of their body may still be alive and kicking – at least for a day or two. New evidence in animals suggests that many genes go on working for up to 48 hours after the lights have gone out. This hustle and bustle has been seen in mice and zebrafish, but there are hints that genes are also active for some time in deceased humans. This discovery could have implications for the safety of organ transplants as well as help pathologists pinpoint a time of death more precisely, perhaps to within minutes of the event.
6-21-16 Newborn brain has to learn how to feed itself
Newborn brain has to learn how to feed itself
In infants, blood flow scans used for brain imaging may not reveal nerve activity, study suggests. Busy nerve cells in the brain are hungry and beckon oxygen-rich blood to replenish themselves. But active nerve cells in newborn mouse brains can’t yet make this request, and their silence leaves them hungry, scientists report June 22 in the Journal of Neuroscience. Instead of being a dismal starvation diet, this lean time may actually spur the brain to develop properly. The new results, though, muddy the interpretation of the brain imaging technique called functional MRI when it is used on infants. Most people assume that all busy nerve cells, or neurons, signal nearby blood vessels to replenish themselves. But there were hints from fMRI studies of young children that their brains don’t always follow this rule. “The newborn brain is doing something weird,” says study coauthor Elizabeth Hillman of Columbia University.
6-21-16 High-fibre diet may protect against peanut allergy
High-fibre diet may protect against peanut allergy
Mice are less likely to have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts if they eat a high-fibre diet, perhaps because they have more “good” gut bacteria. Bran lovers rejoice. Fibre-rich diets have been shown to protect against peanut allergy in mice, by increasing gut bacteria that bolster the immune system. If the same holds true for humans, our diets could prevent or even reverse allergies to peanuts. The dramatic rise in food allergies in Western countries over the past 20 years has coincided with an increase in processed, low-fibre diets, leading to speculation that there may be a link between the two. Now, research by Jian Tan of Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, has backed this theory. Tan’s team has demonstrated that mice bred to have a peanut allergy are less likely to have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts if they are given a high-fibre diet than if they are on a zero-fibre diet.
6-21-16 Benign-turned-deadly bacterium baffles scientists
Benign-turned-deadly bacterium baffles scientists
As patient count rises, source of Elizabethkingia infections remains mysterious. The source of infection with Elizabethkingia bacteria (shown here growing on a blood agar plate) in Wisconsin and two other states remains unknown. A deadly infection that has now spread to three states is puzzling disease investigators. The illness is caused by Elizabethkingia anopheles, a bacterium commonly found in soil and water and that, until now, has rarely caused problems.
6-20-16 How early mammals evolved night vision to escape dinos
How early mammals evolved night vision to escape dinos
Night-time vision evolved millions of years ago in early mammals, a study suggests. The photoreceptors that help us see in dim light developed from colour-detecting cone cells in Jurassic mammals, according to genetic evidence. The evolution of night-time vision is regarded as a landmark event in the rise of mammals. A nocturnal lifestyle allowed the first of their kind to avoid predatory dinosaurs, say scientists. "They did that by switching their daytime vision in the cones to allow night-time vision using their rods."
6-20-16 Microbial mass extinctions were kicked off by human evolution
Microbial mass extinctions were kicked off by human evolution
We may have become exposed to mental and physical health problems because our cultural evolution has wiped out legions of microscopic species. It’s not just elephants and tigers we’re driving extinct – we’ve been drastically wiping out far tinier organisms too. This extinction of microbes brought about by the human era – known as the Anthropocene – could be behind some of our physical and mental health problems, as well as the current antimicrobial resistance crisis. That’s the bleak message from an in-depth analysis of the effect our history as a species has had on the Earth’s microbes, especially those that live inside us. “Diversity of gut bacteria is declining with civilisation,” Michael Gillings of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston on Sunday. Cultural practices including agriculture, diet, sanitation, and the widespread use of antibiotics are responsible for the low diversity of microorganisms in the guts of people living in rich nations, said Gillings. He suggests this loss of diversity began 350,000 years ago, when we learned to use fire.
6-20-16 Deep-sea hydrothermal vents more abundant than thought
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents more abundant than thought
New search tool detects seawater changes from spewed chemicals. The deep, dark ocean bottom teems with far more oases of life than once thought. Searching along the sunless seafloor where tectonic plates pull apart, regions known as spreading ridges, researchers discovered that heat-spewing hydrothermal vents are at least three to six times as abundant as previously assumed. The finding also significantly boosts the likely number of marine ecosystems huddled around vents, the researchers report in the Sept. 1 Earth and Planetary Science Letters. “The common knowledge of vent field distribution — that they’re typically separated by tens or hundreds of kilometers — was not telling the whole story,” says study coauthor Edward Baker, an oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle. In reality, vents are spaced around three to 20 kilometers apart along spreading ridges, Baker and colleagues found. Hydrothermal vents are underwater hot springs. Near tectonic plate boundaries, seawater seeps through the ocean floor and gets heated by molten rock. The hot water then erupts back into the ocean, bringing dissolved minerals such as iron along for the ride. The expunged minerals build smokestack-like towers that host bizarre ecosystems of giant tube worms, eyeless shrimps and ghostly white crabs that thrive in the hot, nutrient-rich water.
6-17-16 Back-stabbing butterflies rob the ants that once protected them
Back-stabbing butterflies rob the ants that once protected them
Metalmark butterfly caterpillars trade sweet secretions for protection from ants. But once they are adults, they steal food from the ants, giving nothing back. The metalmark butterfly cooperates with ants when it’s a caterpillar, only to stab them in the back when it has metamorphosed into a beautiful – thieving – butterfly. While still a caterpillar, the metalmark butterfly wins over local ants, including those of the species Ectatomma tuberculatum, with gifts of sugary secretions (see gif below). In return, the ants, which could easily eat the caterpillar or its adult butterfly form, defend the vulnerable caterpillars from other predators. But this friendly give-and-take doesn’t last forever, work by Phillip Torres of Rice University in Houston, Texas and Aaron Pomerantz of the University of Florida, Gainesville, has now revealed. When the caterpillars have become butterflies, they turn on their protectors, plundering the source of their nectar.
6-17-16 The inevitable global pandemic
The inevitable global pandemic
“A year ago, the world was in a panic over Ebola,” said public health expert Dr. Ali Khan. “Now it’s Zika at the gate.” What’s next? Though Americans fixate on exotic diseases to the point of hysteria, the next pandemic will probably be caused by some new strain of the flu. People think of influenza as “something that makes the kids miss a day or two of school,” but the virus can be deadly. A novel strain of influenza called the Spanish flu killed 50 million people around the globe in 1918—more than all combat deaths in World War I and World War II combined. Today, in a world of jet travel, a lethal new flu strain would spread very rapidly and could produce even more horrific consequences. The bird flu virus, for example, isn’t very contagious among humans but kills 60 percent of those who do get infected; a more communicable mutation could wipe out tens of millions of people. What to do? Invest in national and international public health protection systems, rather than letting them “limp along, underfunded and mostly ignored” until the next pandemic strikes. As Louis Pasteur once warned, “Gentlemen, it is the microbe who will have the last word.”
6-17-16 Study unlocks surprising behaviour of soil bacteria
Study unlocks surprising behaviour of soil bacteria
Different land management systems could alter the behaviour of important soil bacteria. Newly sequenced genomes of soil bacteria have raised questions about how differing land management affects the organisms' behaviour. UK scientists found one strain locked nitrogen in the soil, while another released a potent greenhouse gas. The findings came to light after the researchers sequenced Bradyrhizobium, one of the most active and abundant groups of soil bacteria.
6-17-16 A bionic leaf
A bionic leaf
Researchers at Harvard University have created a “bionic” leaf that vastly improves on a plant’s ability to convert light energy into chemical fuel. In the process known as photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split up water and carbon dioxide molecules and then reshape them—as oxygen and, above all, as vital complex sugars. The Harvard team developed a system that mimics natural photosynthesis in the lab, generating liquid fuel with solar power and bacteria called Ralstonia eutropha. In truth, the technology looks nothing like a leaf. Rather, the researchers filled a jar with two electrodes, some Ralstonia, and water. The water gets broken down by solar electricity, releasing hydrogen; the bacteria, which can be genetically engineered to produce useful compounds like biofuel, gobble up the hydrogen and grow. Creators of the zero-carbon energy system say it’s about 10 times better at turning sunlight into biomass than the fastest-growing plants. “Photosynthesis really is unbelievable,” biochemist Daniel Nocera tells The Washington Post. “It’s just water, air, and sunlight, and plants can make biomass from that. And we can, too.”
6-16-16 Properly timed exercise aids memory
Properly timed exercise aids memory
Vigorous activity four hours after first learning something boosts recall. People who rode stationary bikes four hours after encountering new material better remembered the material than people who didn’t exercise or people who exercised right away. If you want to lock new information into your brain, try working up a sweat four hours after first encountering it. This precisely timed trick, described June 16 in Current Biology, comes courtesy of 72 people who learned the location of 90 objects on a computer screen. Some of these people then watched relaxing nature videos, while others worked up a sweat on stationary bikes, alternating between hard and easy pedaling for 35 minutes. This workout came either soon after the cram session or four hours later.
6-16-16 ‘Daisy-chain’ gene drive vanishes after only a few generations
‘Daisy-chain’ gene drive vanishes after only a few generations
Gene drives could eliminate diseases like malaria but there are fears the tech could run out of control. A new self-limiting one might solve that problem. We have to field-test gene drives to determine if they are safe to use to stop the spread of malaria, for example. But these bits of self-copying DNA could spread to every member of a species, making field tests risky. “A release anywhere is likely a release everywhere,” says Kevin Esvelt at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But his team may have the answer. It has come up with a way to make gene drives self-limiting, so they spread rapidly through a population at first but gradually vanish after, say, 50 or a hundred generations. Not only could this make it possible to safely test gene drives in the wild, it could also allow cities and countries to use them locally without have to worry about the risk of worldwide spread.
6-15-16 US gives cautious go ahead to controversial gene drives
US gives cautious go ahead to controversial gene drives
National Academy of Science report says there are concerns over artificial gene drives – DNA that can spread through a population – but benefits outweigh risks. Gene drives are bits of DNA that can spread themselves rapidly through a population. There are many natural gene drives, and biologists are now creating artificial ones. In theory, gene drives could be used to stop mosquitoes transmitting diseases, or even to drive pests to extinction; in practice, this will be difficult because organisms can evolve resistance. Some want all work on gene drives banned because of the risks, which include their potential use as bioweapons. It has been suggested that gene drives could be used to modify biting insects to make them produce toxins that kill anyone they bite, for instance. The NAS report accepts there are serious risks but concludes that the potential benefits are so great that lab and highly controlled field studies should be allowed.
6-14-16 First mirror-image molecule found in interstellar space
First mirror-image molecule found in interstellar space
A team of scientists has detected the first chiral molecule out in space – a key step toward understanding life's origins. Life tends to be left-handed. Certain molecules have mirror-image versions of themselves that act differently, just as a left hand can’t fit in a right glove. This chemical property, known as chirality, is found within all organic life, and sticking with one handedness is thought to offer an evolutionary advantage. But its origins remain a mystery. Now a team led by Brett McGuire of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia and Brandon Carroll at the California Institute of Technology have detected the first chiral molecule in interstellar space. They spotted propylene oxide within an enormous star-forming cloud of gas and dust only 390 light-years away. “We must have chirality for life,” says Macko. Although propylene oxide isn’t itself necessary for life, “if you can have chiral molecules of this nature, that means that there’s probably molecules that we associate with life too,” he says.
6-14-16 Lemurs sing in sync — until one tries to go solo
Lemurs sing in sync — until one tries to go solo
Among a group of singing lemurs called indris, pitch varies between males and females, but songs typically start on a high note and then descend, researchers have found. In a chorus of indris, young males vie for the spotlight, riffing in alternation rather than singing in unison. Not content to be the Joey Fatone of the group, these guys strive for Justin Timberlake status. Indris (Indro indri), the only singing lemur species, begin their songs with roars that descend into long, phrased howls. These choirs are composed of males and females, with one dominant pair. Marco Gamba of the University of Turin in Italy and his colleagues wanted to analyze variation among individual singers.
6-14-16 Movie viewers’ exhaled chemicals tell if scene is funny, scary
Movie viewers’ exhaled chemicals tell if scene is funny, scary
People may wear their emotions on their breath. Researchers in Germany can predict whether a movie scene is funny or suspenseful from gases that audiences exhale into the theater air. Scientists can gauge a film’s emotional tenor from the gasps of its audience. Sure, the audible sounds are a cue, but so are the chemicals exhaled with each sigh and scream. These gases could point the way to a subtle form of human communication. “There’s an invisible concerto going on,” says Jonathan Williams, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. “You hear the music and see the pictures, but you don’t realize there are chemical signals in the air.”
6-13-16 Moms’ voices get big reactions in kids’ brains
Moms’ voices get big reactions in kids’ brains
Any parent trying to hustle a school-bound kid out the door in the morning knows that her child’s skull possesses a strange and powerful form of black magic: It can repel parents’ voices. Important messages like “find your shoes” bounce off the impenetrable fortress and drift unheeded to the floor. But when this perplexing force field is off, it turns out that mothers’ voices actually have profound effects on kids. Children’s brains practically buzz when they hear their moms’ voices, scientists report in the May 31 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Fun and not surprising side note: Babies’ voices get into moms’ brains, too.) The parts of kids’ brains that handle emotions, face recognition and reward were prodded into action by mothers’ voices, brain scans of 24 children ages 7 to 12 revealed. And words were not required to get this big reaction. In the study, children listened to nonsense words said by either their mother or one of two unfamiliar women. Even when the words were fake, mothers’ voices still prompted lots of neural action.
6-13-16 Spread of human disease from animals mapped
Spread of human disease from animals mapped
Scientists say they have developed a better way to predict how animal diseases can spill over into humans. Their model for Lassa fever, which is spread by rats, predicts that there will be twice as many human cases of the disease in Africa by 2070. The method can be applied to other disease threats such as Ebola and Zika, they say. Like the Ebola virus, the Lassa virus causes haemorrhagic fever and can be fatal. Lassa fever virus currently affects between 100,000 and one million people a year in western sub-Saharan Africa. A rat found in parts of the continent can pass the virus to people.
6-10-16 ‘Monkey archaeology’ reveals macaque’s own Stone Age culture
‘Monkey archaeology’ reveals macaque’s own Stone Age culture
One of the first digs searching for stone tools used by monkeys has unearthed evidence that promises to change the way we study the evolution of tool use. The world’s first archaeology dig of an old world monkey culture has uncovered the tools used by previous generations of wild macaques – a group of primates separated from humans by some 25 million years of evolution. The discovery means humans aren’t unique in leaving a record of our past culture that can be pried open through archaeology. Only a few decades ago scientists thought that humans were the only species to have worked out how to turn objects in their environment into useful tools. We now know all sorts of animals can do the same – but the tools of choice are usually perishable materials like leafs and twigs. This makes the origin of these behaviours difficult to study, especially when you consider that the record of hominin stone tool use stretches back more than 3 million years. Burmese long-tailed macaques are a rare exception. They are renowned for their use of stone tools to crack open shellfish, crabs and nuts, making them one of the very few primates that have followed hominins into the Stone Age.
6-10-16 How comets kick-started life
How comets kick-started life
Astronomers have long suspected that some of the organic molecules essential for terrestrial life came from outer space. Now, for the first time, a probe has directly detected those vital compounds in the dusty halo surrounding a comet. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta orbiter, which has been circling comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for nearly two years, has identified glycine, an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins. The orbiter also found the molecules hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide, as well as phosphorus—a mineral required for the construction of cells and DNA. Rosetta’s discovery bolsters the theory that many of life’s building blocks arrived when icy comets and their complex brew of chemicals crashed into Earth. “With all the organics, amino acid, and phosphorus, we can say that the comet really contains everything to produce life—except energy,” study author Kathrin Altwegg tells Space.com. “But once you have the comet in a warm place—let’s say it drops into the ocean—then these molecules get free, they get mobile, they can react, and maybe that’s how life starts.”
6-10-16 Alzheimer’s linked to infection
Alzheimer’s linked to infection
Alzheimer’s disease may result from the brain’s efforts to fight off bacteria and viruses, a new study suggests. The main culprit in Alzheimer’s is known to be a sticky protein called beta amyloid that accumulates in the brain as plaque, destroying synapses and robbing people of their memories. The consensus has been that beta amyloid is merely useless waste that collects with age. But Harvard University researchers found evidence that the protein serves as a defense against pathogens that sneak across the blood-brain barrier, which becomes less effective with age. When scientists injected bacteria into the brains of mice, it triggered a defense mechanism in which beta amyloid formed a sticky cage around the invaders, trapping them. But the beta amyloid was left behind, forming plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. A group of control mice that could not produce beta amyloid died from their brain infections. The Harvard team says their findings could lead to new ways to treat or prevent the devastating degenerative disease. The next step, researcher Rudolph Tanzi tells The New York Times, is to find out if there are specific microbes “that may sneak into the brain as we age and trigger amyloid deposition. Then we can aim at stopping them.”
6-9-16 Supernovae 2 million years ago may have changed human behaviour
Supernovae 2 million years ago may have changed human behaviour
Two nearby supernovae explosions may have increased cancer rates and changed the behaviour of early humans - but that's a pretty big may. Two stellar explosions could have made life interesting for early humans. Roughly 2 million years ago, two supernovae exploded so close to Earth that they showered our pale blue dot with debris, leaving behind traces of radioactive iron-60 found buried in the sea floor across the globe and even mixed within the dust layers on the moon. Those supernovae were several hundred light-years from Earth, far enough away that their radiation shouldn’t have led to a mass extinction, but close enough that the blast could have affected our ancestors. At the time, the human ancestor Homo erectus was descending from the trees. Now, Brian Thomas at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and his colleagues posit that the two supernovae could have hurled enough radiation at Earth to affect our ancestors’ behavioural patterns, and potentially increase cancer rates. The first radiation to bombard Earth would have simply been visible light. Supernovae can be so bright that they briefly outshine all the stars in their host galaxy – an effect that wouldn’t go unnoticed on Earth. In fact, such a close supernova would have been as bright as a full moon every night for up to a year after the initial explosion. The added light pollution could have had some biological impact, Thomas says, as we know from studies of the effect of artificial lights on wildlife.
6-9-16 Ancient enzyme resurrected from the ancestor of all bacteria
Ancient enzyme resurrected from the ancestor of all bacteria
The reconstruction of an enzyme used by bacteria thought to have lived in a hot spring 3.4 billion years ago tells us they became complex earlier than thought.The ancestor of all bacteria may have had sophisticated enzymes 3.4 billion years ago – just 600 million years after the origin of life on Earth. The discovery comes as a surprise since we had assumed they didn’t evolve until much later – perhaps even for another billion years. Modern enzymes fit the molecules they react with like a lock to a key. They normally only work for one reaction, but they perform that one job very well. In contrast, the earliest enzymes were “sloppy”, says Michael Harms of the University of Oregon – they didn’t have a lock and key relationship with their molecules. Instead, they had pockets in their structures that could grab a wide range of chemicals and control a number of reactions, but managed none of them very well.
6-9-16 Gene drives aren’t ready for the wild, report concludes
Gene drives aren’t ready for the wild, report concludes
Mosquitoes and other organisms normally have a 50 percent chance of passing along a gene to an offspring. A gene drive copies and pastes itself into chromosomes from both parents, ensuring it gets passed on more often. Mosquitoes and invasive species can rest easy — for now. Genetic technology called gene drives could wipe out pest species, but it’s not ready for release in the wild, concludes a report released June 8 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Gene drives are self-perpetuating pieces of DNA that break the laws of genetics to get inherited by more offspring than usual. These promiscuous genes can quickly spread through a population.
6-8-16 Souped-up ‘gene drives’ may help eliminate pests and diseases
Souped-up ‘gene drives’ may help eliminate pests and diseases
Gene drives might not work well enough to eradicate Zika or malaria, but an improved version of the technology may help them deliver on their promise.A potentially life-saving technology that could eradicate diseases like Zika and malaria called a “gene drive” shouldn’t be released into the wild – for now. That’s the conclusion of a report released today by the US National Academies of Sciences A gene drive is a piece of “selfish” DNA that can spread rapidly through a population. But fears that engineered gene drives could spread out of control may be exaggerated as there are flaws in the existing designs that mean they will not last long in the wild. However, New Scientist can reveal that souped-up versions are in the works that might just deliver on the technology’s enormous potential to do good – or bad.
6-8-16 Stem cell brain injections let people walk again after stroke
Stem cell brain injections let people walk again after stroke
PEOPLE once dependent on wheelchairs following a stroke are walking again after receiving injections of stem cells into their brains. Participants in the small trial also saw improvements in their speech and arm movements.
6-8-16 Mystery human hobbits ruled tiny Asian island 700,000 years ago
Mystery human hobbits ruled tiny Asian island 700,000 years ago
New jaw and skull bone fossils found on the island of Flores back the idea that the hobbit was a mini Homo erectus, only adapted to island life much earlier than we imagined.We may have finally found the ancestors of the mysterious miniature Homo floresiensis, aka the hobbit. A new cache of hobbit-like remains uncovered on the island of Flores answers at least some questions in the decade-long quest to understand the identity and origins of this tiny ancient hominin. The hobbit stood about 1 metre tall and the single skull found so far has a braincase no larger than a chimpanzee’s. At the site where hobbits were originally found – a rock shelter called Liang Bua – the species lived between 190,000 and 50,000 years ago. Exactly where it came from, though, is a matter of heated debate.
6-8-16 Hobbit find shows tiny humans shrank 'rapidly'
Hobbit find shows tiny humans shrank 'rapidly'
The story of humanity was rewritten 12 years ago by the discovery of the Hobbit. Now scientists unearth another twist to this epic tale. Scientists have discovered the 700,000-year-old ancestor of the tiny primitive human known as "the Hobbit". Its fossils indicate that the normal-sized primitive humans who first set foot on the Indonesian island of Flores shrank "rapidly" to become Hobbit-sized. The remains are of at least one adult and two children, who are all just as small as their descendents.
6-8-16 Life on the edge: Saving the world’s hotbeds of evolution
Life on the edge: Saving the world’s hotbeds of evolution
It's a radical new approach to saving nature: don't obsess about individual species, safeguard the places on the bleeding edge of evolutionary change instead. EVERYONE’S heard of the Amazon, but can you name the world’s second largest rainforest? It covers an area twice the size of France, contains 20 per cent of all known plant and animal species, and is the only place on Earth where you can find bonobos living in the wild. The Congo rainforest may be less familiar than its South American counterpart but it is no less endangered. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with its confluence of poverty, rapidly growing human populations and shortages of water and food. So you may be surprised to discover that this region of central Africa is at the cutting edge of conservation.
6-8-16 Artificial genome could create a ‘blank slate’ human template
Artificial genome could create a ‘blank slate’ human template
This synthetic biology megaproject could show why some people are more susceptible to certain diseases, but critics say its ambitions could get out of hand. “WHAT I cannot create, I do not understand.” Last week, 25 leading synthetic biologists decided it was time to follow Richard Feynman’s famous credo. After nearly two decades spent poring over the 3 billion letters or base pairs that make up the human genome, they announced a 10-year plan to chemically synthesise one. “Reading the genome can only get you so far. At some point you have to build it,” says Susan Rosser of the Mammalian Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and a co-author on the paper outlining the plan. The team, which counts among its leaders the maverick geneticist George Church, says it is aiming to launch the ambitious initiative this year, depending on raising an initial £100 million.
6-8-16 Rise of mammals 'began well before dinosaur extinction'
Rise of mammals 'began well before dinosaur extinction'
Mammals began to flourish well before the end of the dinosaur age, a new study has found. The study saw hundreds of mammal fossil teeth analysed by the Universities of Southampton and Chicago. The findings showed those with varied diets began to adapt 10 to 20 million years before the dinosaurs died out. Researchers said it contradicted the traditional view that the extinction of dinosaurs around 66 million years ago allowed mammals to evolve and thrive.
6-8-16 Tallest known tropical tree discovered in Malaysia’s lost world
Tallest known tropical tree discovered in Malaysia’s lost world
The Yellow Meranti tree is probably the world's tallest tropical tree. At 89.5 metres tall (293 feet, almost a football field tall), that's equivalent to 65 people standing on each other’s shoulders. Behold the giant. The world’s tallest known tropical tree has been discovered in a rainforest in Malaysia, measuring a whopping 89.5 metres. Gaming enthusiasts may be familiar with the species of tree – Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana) – which can be grown in Minecraft. David Coomes of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues discovered the behemoth in one of Malaysia’s last remaining pristine wildernesses – the Maliau Basin Conservation Area, known as Sabah’s Lost World.
6-7-16 By leaking light, squid hides in plain sight
By leaking light, squid hides in plain sight
Inefficiency in bioluminescent cells may let sea creature mask itself. The almost invisible squid: The big eyes of a nearly transparent squid are camouflaged with bioluminescence. A sloppy light system may be just what a squid needs to hide from predators. Bioluminescent cells in some glass squid work in a surprisingly inefficient way — leaking a lot of light rather than fully channeling it, a new study suggests. Glass squid have largely transparent bodies, helpful for inconspicuous swimming in deep open water. Marine predators often scan the waters above them for the telltale silhouettes of prey blocking sunlight, but there’s little to betray a glass squid — except for a few notable features such as the shadow-making eyes on its head. Underneath those eyes, squid in the genus Galiteuthis grow silvery patches of cells that act as undersurface bioluminescence, a camouflage technique that has evolved in various marine creatures, making their shadows less conspicuous to hunters below.
6-7-16 Genetic test predicts your success in life, but not happiness
Genetic test predicts your success in life, but not happiness
Subtle variations across the genome can go a small way in predicting how likely a person is to have a prestigious job, high income and likeable personality. Next time you have a success, you’d better toast your genes as well as your supportive family, teachers and pets. Subtle variations across the genome can go a small way to predicting how likely a person is to have a prestigious job, a high income, to do better than their parents and to have a likeable personality – in short, to be successful. The research builds on a 2013 study looking at the genetic profiles of 126,000 people. It compared these with each person’s educational attainment – the highest level of education each person achieved. Instead of looking for individual “genes for education”, the researchers looked for subtle variations across the genome. They found thousands of genetic variations that individually were barely significant, but together offered a way of calculating what is called a “polygenic score” that accounted for 2 per cent of the variation in educational attainment. (Webmaster's comment: Generics ain't everything, but it still rules! If you ain't got the genes, you don't!)
6-7-16 Origin of mystery deep-sea mushroom revealed
Origin of mystery deep-sea mushroom revealed
Australian scientists have used genetic material to pinpoint the origin of the deep-sea mushroom, an unusual gelatinous creature first dredged up near Tasmania in 1986. The organisms have a cylindrical stalk capped by a flat, semi-transparent disc that houses visible channels branching outwards. These channels, which resemble tree-like diagrams known as dendrograms, are the basis for its scientific name - Dendrogramma. Although they appear to be one organism, siphonophores are actually comprised of many polyps, which are specialised for buoyancy, propulsion, gathering and eating food, reproducing, and fending off threats, explains O'Hara. (Webmaster's comment: Just like us with the 10's of thousands of micro-creatures in us all working to keep themselves and us (their home) alive.)
6-6-16 Desert plant seen drinking fog and mist with its leaves
Desert plant seen drinking fog and mist with its leaves
The unusual plant uses its leaves instead of its roots to collect water – and for the first time the detailed mechanism behind this is revealed. A common desert moss sucks water directly out of the air instead of from the ground. The discovery could be used to inspire ways of collecting clean drinking water in developing countries. Most desert plants, including cacti, rely on extensive root systems to mop up scarce groundwater. But the desert moss Syntrichia caninervis collects fresh water straight from the atmosphere. Tiny fibres attached to the tips of the moss leaves, known as awns, allow S. caninervis to harvest fog and mist droplets, says Tadd Truscott of Utah State University, who filmed the plant’s drinking behaviour. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution's adaptations seem unlimited. Anything goes in helping the organism survive and breed.)
6-6-16 Electric eels seen leaping out of water to attack land predators
Electric eels seen leaping out of water to attack land predators
A naturalist’s tale from 200 years ago of eels jumping out of a river in the Amazon and attacking horses may be true – the behaviour has been caught on film. More than 200 years ago naturalist Alexander von Humboldt recounted seeing electric eels leaping out of the water to attack horses in the Amazon. The locals herded some 30 horses and mules into a small pool provoking the eels to attack – and kill some of the – horses. The method, he wrote, was used to “fish with horses”, because locals could pick up the exhausted eels safely after the mayhem. But it was thought to be an exaggeration because nobody else had witnessed a similar assault. Until now, that is. They’ve been filmed leaping out of the water and delivering massive shocks to powerful predators.
6-6-16 Human route into Americas traced via trail of bison fossils
Human route into Americas traced via trail of bison fossils
Genetic evidence and radiocarbon dating of bison remains unearthed in the Yukon suggest that humans could have traversed the Rocky Mountains around 13,000 years ago. At the end of the last Ice Age, humans undertook an epic American road trip — trekking from a northern land bridge into interior of North America. But details about the route and timing of that trip are hotly debated. Some researchers think that humans followed a so-called “ice-free corridor” along the eastern Rocky Mountains. Studies have suggested, though, that the corridor froze over and became impassable around 21,000 years ago. Now, a bread crumb trail of fossils showing the movement of ancient bison indicates that the corridor may have reopened a few thousand years later, researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of June 6.
6-6-16 Gene editing technique could transform future
Gene editing technique could transform future
CRISPR - get to know this acronym. It's good to know the name of something that could change your future. Pronounced "crisper", it is a biological system for altering DNA. Known as gene editing, this technology has the potential to change the lives of everyone and everything on the planet. A bold statement but that is the considered view of many of the world's leading geneticists and biochemists I've spoken to in recent months when working on my latest Panorama - Medicine's Big Breakthrough: Editing Your Genes.
6-6-16 Francis Crick’s good luck revolutionized biology
Francis Crick’s good luck revolutionized biology
Scientists will celebrate 100th birthday of DNA double helix codiscoverer. Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, was born 100 years ago on June 8. After many years of work on molecular genetics, he turned to neuroscience and studied the neural basis of consciousness.
6-3-16 Some lifeforms may have been alive since the dinosaur era
Some lifeforms may have been alive since the dinosaur era
Some microbes can live for millions of years – perhaps even for a quarter of a billion years. How do they avoid succumbing to the inevitable wear-and-tear of old age? Some corals live for thousands of years. American lobsters can live to at least 140. One tortoise lived to 250. And a mollusc called Ming was the ripe old age of 507 when researchers inadvertently killed him. Forget these babies, though. The oldest living creatures on Earth can easily shatter their longevity records, which is not bad going for organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. In the coldest parts of Siberia, Antarctica and Canada lie soils that have remained permanently frozen for thousands to millions of years. Trapped hundreds of metres down between layers of this frozen earth, known as permafrost, are living bacteria as old as the ice itself. Just how the bacteria survive is unknown, but some claim the microbes' secrets could unlock the key to immortality.
6-3-16 Averting a post-antibiotic apocalypse
Averting a post-antibiotic apocalypse
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could become a bigger killer than cancer by 2050, unless drastic action is taken to curb the excessive use of existing drugs and spur the development of new ones. That’s the stark conclusion of a major two-year review of antimicrobial resistance. The dwindling arsenal of effective antibiotics could make minor infections and routine surgeries like C-sections life-threatening. The report estimates that drug-resistant superbugs, which already kill 700,000 people a year, could claim as many as 10 million lives each year by the middle of the century. Just this week, researchers reported finding a “superbug” resistant to antibiotics of last resort in a Pennsylvania woman, suggesting that such untreatable bacteria may become prevalent in the U.S. The study’s authors, who were commissioned by the British government, make several proposals. They advise governments to set strict limits on the use of antibiotics in agriculture and to provide significant financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics. They also recommend launching a global awareness campaign to increase understanding of antimicrobial resistance. “We need to inform in different ways, all over the world, why it’s crucial we stop treating our antibiotics like sweets,” study author Jim O’Neill tells BBC.com. “If we don’t solve the problem, we are heading to the dark ages, [and] we will have a lot of people dying.”
6-2-16 How cancer was created by evolution
How cancer was created by evolution
The cells inside a tumour change and evolve just like animals in the wild. Understanding how this works could help us stop cancer in its tracks. The latest figures show just how distant a prospect victory is right now. In the US, the lifetime risk of developing cancer is 42% in men and 38% in women, according to the American Cancer Society. The figures are even worse in the UK. According to Cancer Research UK, 54% of men and 48% of women will get cancer at some point in their lives. To get to the answer, we must understand that cancer is an unfortunate by-product of the way evolution works. Large and complicated animals like humans are vulnerable to cancer precisely because they are large and complicated.
6-2-16 Plan to build human genome from scratch could kick off this year
Plan to build human genome from scratch could kick off this year
After several secret meetings, scientists have officially announced a $3-billion, 10-year plan to chemically synthesise a human genome. Today a group of 25 scientists officially announced their plan to build a human genome from scratch within the next 10 years. They have also given more details about their intended applications for the synthetic DNA – but not everyone is convinced by their approach. The team bills this grand challenge as a natural extension of the Human Genome Project. If that was about reading – or sequencing – the code of life, this new project proposes to write it, chemically synthesising each letter or base pair. Poring over our DNA has limitations, the team argues. “Reading the genome can only get you so far,” says Susan Rosser, a co-author on the paper and the director of the Mammalian Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “At some point you have to build it.”
6-2-16 Hipster chicken beards caused by a single gene mutation
Hipster chicken beards caused by a single gene mutation
Now we know how a chicken gets its beard. The same set of genes may also control human hair patterns and how birds of paradise get their showy plumage. “The Huiyang bearded chicken is a famous local breed,” says Xiaoxiang Hu at the China Agricultural University in Beijing. When his team searched for the genes that control development of beards in chickens they found that a mutation turns on the HoxB8 gene in the skin cells of a chicken’s chin. The gene makes them grow long feathers to form a handsome beard. They also develop mutton chops called “muffs” to go along with it. Hox genes first became famous for their role in regulating spine and limb growth in animals from fish to the great apes. If HoxB8 controls feathers on these chickens’ faces, it’s possible that Hox genes are responsible for more than just an animal’s basic body plan, says Cheng-Ming Chuong of the University of Southern California.
6-2-16 Ancient DNA tells of two origins for dogs
Ancient DNA tells of two origins for dogs
Domestication of wolves might have happened in both East and West. Dogs may have been domesticated separately in East Asia and Europe, a new study suggests. Those separate dog groups got together when Eastern dogs moved west with humans and partially replaced dogs living in Europe. Those events happened thousands of years before breeds, such as Chinese shar-peis and German shepherds, were created. Dogs were domesticated at least twice, a new study suggests. Genetic analyses of a 4,800-year-old Irish dog and 59 other ancient dogs suggest that canines and humans became pals in both Europe and East Asia long before the advent of farming, researchers report June 3 in Science. Later, dogs from East Asia accompanied their human companions to Europe, where their genetic legacy trumped that of dogs already living there, the team also concludes.
6-2-16 Domestic dogs may have evolved separately in Europe and Asia
Domestic dogs may have evolved separately in Europe and Asia
The origin of domestic dogs has split experts into two groups, who say it happened in either Europe or Asia. New genetic evidence suggests both may be right. Domestic dogs emerged from not one, but two wolf families at opposite ends of Eurasia, according to fresh evidence. Debate has raged for years over whether man’s best friend came from Europe or Asia, with genetic studies finding conflicting results. But it appears that both camps may be right. An analysis of modern and ancient DNA has revealed a deep split in the family tree of European and Asian dogs. The results indicate that domestic dogs initially evolved from two separate wolf populations in the eastern and western halves of Eurasia. Then, between 14,000 and 6,400 years ago, things became complicated: humans brought Asian dogs westwards, where they partially replaced their European counterparts.
6-2-16 Earliest evidence of fire making in Europe found
Earliest evidence of fire making in Europe found
Charred bone, heat-rippled stone in Spanish cave date back 800,000 years.Discoveries in a Spanish cave indicate a pre-human species set small blazes there around 800,000 years ago, the earliest evidence for fire making in Europe. Prehumans living around 800,000 years ago in what’s now southeastern Spain were, literally, trailblazers. They lit small, controlled blazes in a cave, a new study finds. Discoveries in the cave provide the oldest evidence of fire making in Europe and support proposals that members of the human genus, Homo, regularly ignited fires starting at least 1 million years ago, say paleontologist Michael Walker of the University of Murcia in Spain and his colleagues. Fire making started in Africa (SN: 5/5/12, p. 18) and then moved north to the Middle East (SN: 5/1/04, p. 276) and Europe, the researchers conclude in the June Antiquity. If the age estimate for the Spain find holds up, the new report adds to a “surprising number” of sites from deep in the Stone Age that retain evidence of small, intentionally lit fires, says archaeologist John Gowlett of the University of Liverpool in England. (Webmaster's comment: First use of fire by a pre-human species of Homo was 1,700,000 years ago.)
6-1-16 Scientists dig up proteins from the past
Scientists dig up proteins from the past
Evolutionary biochemists are treating ancient proteins like storytelling fossils. The influenza virus is a quick-change artist. In a few decades, its genome can evolve as much as animal genomes can over millions of years. That means that the viral proteins, including those that alert our bodies to an infection, constantly reinvent themselves, threatening our immune systems and frustrating vaccine developers. Thanks to data collected during past flu seasons, Bloom knows the exact genetic makeup of some ancestors of today’s influenza viruses. His lab group at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle uses that information to figure out how the viruses made their immunity-dodging transformations. Bloom and others are part of a growing group of scientists who practice “evolutionary biochemistry.” They seek to explain life’s tremendous diversity and determine exactly how that diversity emerged. Rather than focusing on how plants or animals adapted to different environments, however, these researchers consider diversity on a much smaller scale: Their work aims to explain how the small set of proteins that powered primitive life-forms evolved into the millions of specialized proteins that drive biological processes today.
6-1-16 Jumping gene turned peppered moths the color of soot
Jumping gene turned peppered moths the color of soot
Scientists track DNA changes behind famous example of natural selection from the Industrial Revolution. As soot settled onto trees in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, a black version of the peppered moth started to overtake the mottled-wing form. Scientists have now found the mutation that caused the color shift in a gene called cortex. Peppered moths and copycat butterflies owe their wing color-changing abilities to a single gene, two independent studies suggest. A genetic tweak in a portion of the cortex gene that doesn’t make protein painted the speckled gray wings of peppered moths black, researchers report online June 1 in Nature. Genetic variants in DNA surrounding the cortex gene also help some tasty species of Heliconius butterflies mimic unpalatable species and avoid getting eaten by predators, a second team of scientists reports, also June 1 in Nature.
6-1-16 Famous peppered moth's dark secret revealed
Famous peppered moth's dark secret revealed
Scientists have discovered the specific mutation that famously turned moths black during the industrial revolution. In an iconic evolutionary case study, a black form of the peppered moth rapidly took over in industrial parts of the UK during the 1800s, as soot blackened the tree trunks and walls of its habitat. Now, researchers from the University of Liverpool have pinpointed the genetic change that caused this adaptation. They have also calculated the most likely date for the mutation - 1819.