79 Evolution News Articles
for June 2017
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6-22-17 Special cells explain why cabbage and stress churn your guts
Special cells explain why cabbage and stress churn your guts
When a type of cell in the intestine detects dietary irritants and stress hormones, it sends distress signals to the brain, telling it to move things along. Have you ever needed to hurry to the toilet during times of stress or after eating a spicy meal? This may be because taste buds lining your intestine can sense inflammatory chemicals and warn your brain to move things along. We know little about these taste buds, known as enterochromaffin cells. They first provoked curiosity when it was discovered that they produce 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin, a chemical mostly known for regulating mood, appetite and sleep in the brain. To find out why gut cells are releasing such large amounts of a brain chemical, David Julius at the University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues have been studying these cells in mini-intestines, grown from mouse cells in the lab. They have discovered that enterochromaffin cells have receptors for sensing dietary irritants, stress hormones and bacterial byproducts. When exposed to these substances, the cells pump out serotonin molecules, which activate intestinal nerve endings that connect back to the brain. The brain responds by speeding up bowel movements, or – if the situation is really bad – inducing diarrhoea or vomiting. “It might also give you a general sense of discomfort as a way of letting you know you’ve got some kind of inflammatory episode going on in there,” says Julius.
6-21-17 When should babies sleep in their own rooms?
When should babies sleep in their own rooms?
Babies age 6 months and older sleep longer when in their own bedroom, study suggests. By suggesting that babies age 6 months and older may sleep longer when in their own bedrooms, a new study provides ammunition to parents who want their room back to themselves after the first six months. When we brought our first baby home from the hospital, our pediatrician advised us to have her sleep in our room. We put our tiny new roommate in a crib near our bed (though other containers that were flat, firm and free of blankets, pillows or stuffed animals would have worked, too). The advice aims to reduce the risk of sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Studies suggest that in their first year of life, babies who bunk with their parents (but not in the same bed) are less likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep in their own room. The reasons aren’t clear, but scientists suspect it has to do with lighter sleep: Babies who sleep near parents might more readily wake themselves up and avoid the deep sleep that’s a risk factor for SIDS. That’s an important reason to keep babies close. Room sharing also makes sense from a logistical standpoint. Middle of the night feedings and diaper changes are easier when there’s less distance between you and the babe.
6-21-17 Bones make hormones that communicate with the brain and other organs
Bones make hormones that communicate with the brain and other organs
Mouse studies reveal bone-body connection in appetite, metabolism and more. The skeleton doesn’t just protect important bodily organs, it also talks to them, studies in mice show. In addition to providing structural support, the skeleton is a versatile conversationalist. Bones make hormones that chat with other organs and tissues, including the brain, kidneys and pancreas, experiments in mice have shown. “The bone, which was considered a dead organ, has really become a gland almost,” says Beate Lanske, a bone and mineral researcher at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “There’s so much going on between bone and brain and all the other organs, it has become one of the most prominent tissues being studied at the moment.” At least four bone hormones moonlight as couriers, recent studies show, and there could be more. Scientists have only just begun to decipher what this messaging means for health. But cataloging and investigating the hormones should offer a more nuanced understanding of how the body regulates sugar, energy and fat, among other things.
6-21-17 Best evidence yet that Parkinson’s could be autoimmune disease
Best evidence yet that Parkinson’s could be autoimmune disease
People with Parkinson's show an immune response to brain cell markers that suggests the condition could be caused by having an over-active immune system. EVIDENCE that Parkinson’s disease may be an autoimmune disorder could lead to new ways to treat the illness. Parkinson’s begins with abnormal clumping of a protein called synuclein in the brain. Neighbouring dopamine-producing neurons then die, causing tremors and difficulty moving. The prevailing wisdom has been that these neurons die from a toxic reaction to synuclein deposits. However, Parkinson’s has been linked to some gene variants that affect how the immune system works, leading to an alternative theory that synuclein causes Parkinson’s by triggering the immune system to attack the brain. An argument against this theory has been that brain cells are safe from immune system attack, because most neurons don’t have antigens – the markers immune cells use to recognise a target. But by studying postmortem brain tissue samples, David Sulzer at Columbia University and his team have discovered that dopamine-producing neurons do display antigens. The team has now conducted blood tests to reveal that people with Parkinson’s show an immune response to these antigens, while people who don’t have the condition do not (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature22815).
6-21-17 Protein in Parkinson’s provokes the immune system
Protein in Parkinson’s provokes the immune system
Immune cells treat bits of alpha-synuclein as intruders. A micrograph shows how the protein alpha-synuclein builds up in nerve cells in brains affected by Parkinson’s disease. The immune system can react to parts of the protein, a new study finds. Bits of a protein that builds up in Parkinson’s disease trigger the immune system, causing it to tag them as foreign invaders. In a blood test, immune cells called T cells became activated when exposed to the protein in about 40 percent of Parkinson’s patients in a new study. This autoimmune response may contribute to the progression of the disease, the researchers report online June 21 in Nature. Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s “have not really been thought of as autoimmune disorders,” says coauthor David Sulzer, a neuroscientist at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City. “The data strongly indicate that we better look at autoimmune responses as at least one of the links in the chain of developing Parkinson’s.”
6-21-17 Smoking is finally dying out among young people in the UK and US
Smoking is finally dying out among young people in the UK and US
Now only 15.5 per cent of people in the UK are smokers. The largest declines have been seen in the first generation to grow up among anti-smoking laws. SMOKING is rapidly dying out in the UK and US among young people – the first generation to come of age surrounded by laws that discourage smoking. Figures from the UK Office for National Statistics reveal that the proportion of smokers in the country fell to 15.5 per cent in 2016, down 4 percentage points from 2010. Although 19.3 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds smoke, this group has shown the biggest decline, by 6.5 percentage points. And the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of smokers aged between about 12 and 18 dropped to 3.9 million in 2016, down from 4.7 million in 2015. These figures include cigarettes and e-cigarettes, both of which have seen large declines in use. “Young people are growing up in a different world to the older generation,” says Hazel Cheeseman of UK charity Action on Smoking and Health. “The notion that smoking is the norm is much less true than before.”
6-21-17 The power of a billion: India's genomics revolution
The power of a billion: India's genomics revolution
Could an effort to gather genetic data from its population of one billion people help India take the lead in advanced healthcare? India is the land of inventors and industry, spices and spirituality - and 1.3 billion human genomes. But although the subcontinent contributes around 20% of the world's population, the DNA sequences of its people make up around 0.2% of global genetic databases. In a similar vein, 81% of the world's genomic information has been collected from people with European ancestry. Still, this is an improvement from a staggering 96% back in 2009. At the same time, there's a growing interest in developing new, more effective therapies tailored to an individual's genetic makeup - an idea known as precision or personalised medicine. Missing out on mapping worldwide genetic diversity is a big mistake, according to Sumit Jamuar, chief executive of Global Gene Corp. It's a company aiming to democratise healthcare by capturing anonymised genetic data from populations around the world and share it with the global community of academic and pharmaceutical industry researchers. It will start by focusing on populations in South Asia.
6-21-17 A baby’s DNA may kick off mom’s preeclampsia
A baby’s DNA may kick off mom’s preeclampsia
Suspect is protein made by the fetus and needed to form placenta’s blood vessels. In some women, the pregnancy condition preeclampsia, which can cause blood pressure to soar, may be triggered by DNA variations carried by the fetus, a genetic study suggests. A protein made by the fetus may lead to preeclampsia in moms. People born to mothers who had the prenatal disorder were more likely to have certain DNA variations near a gene known to influence blood vessels. The results, published online June 19 in Nature Genetics, point to that gene as a possible preeclampsia culprit, and may help scientists develop ways to stop or prevent the pregnancy complication. Preeclampsia, which is marked by a dangerous spike in blood pressure, affects about 5 percent of pregnancies and is estimated to kill over 70,000 women a year globally. Scientists have known that preeclampsia can run in families, but the genetics of the fetus hadn’t been scrutinized. “Over the years, people have looked at mothers’ genes,” says geneticist Linda Morgan of the University of Nottingham in England. “This is the first large study to look at babies’ genes.”
6-20-17 Why ecstasy and opioids should replace Prozac and Xanax
Why ecstasy and opioids should replace Prozac and Xanax
Yet a large number of well-controlled studies, and the meta-analytic research that puts them in perspective, find that SSRIs (compared with placebos) have little or no benefit for people with mild to moderate levels of depression. Their utility for severe depression is still subject to debate, with many studies showing little or no improvement, and a definitive impact on anxiety disorders has not been demonstrated. Nor are SSRIs free of serious side effects, including sexual dysfunction, rapid weight gain and, most troubling, suicidal ideation, especially in younger patients. SSRIs have not lived up to their promise. The question is whether there are drugs that can relieve emotional or psychological problems effectively and reliably, without debilitating side effects. Historically, humans have relied on a panoply of drugs to remedy emotional concerns. Our Victorian-era ancestors used opiates (eg, laudanum) to minimize anxiety, melancholia, and sleep problems. Opiates are still acknowledged as the most effective defense against pain — and also anxiety, in limited circumstances (e.g., routine colonoscopy). The indigenous people of South America have long bolstered their physical and mental endurance with coca leaves; and early 20th-century Europeans (such as Sigmund Freud) used its derivative, cocaine, to sharpen their wits. Self-actualization, presumably an overall boon to mental health, has been enhanced with natural psychedelics (e.g., peyote, ayahuasca) throughout the Americas for at least 1,000 years. And the youth of more recent times (re)discovered the value of cannabis in extending their aesthetic, social, even intellectual horizons. (Webmaster's comment: However: When regulators do too little)
6-20-17 Antibacterials in soap should be regulated globally, say experts
Antibacterials in soap should be regulated globally, say experts
Two common compounds, triclosan and triclocarban, can no longer be added to some personal care products in the US, but some say this rule doesn’t go far enough. Governments and regulatory agencies around the world should be wary of the long-term effects of two antibacterial chemicals commonly added to everything from soaps to toys. That’s according to over 200 researchers, scientists and medical professionals around the world, who have signed a statement published today calling for their regulation. Dubbed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, it focuses on these two antibacterial compounds, which have been used since the 1960s and can be found in a large number of products such as detergents and toothpastes. However, research is increasingly finding that both of these chemicals, and those they can break down into, persist in the environment for a long time, enabling them to spread to soil, waterways, wild animals and even breast milk. Because there is some evidence – largely from animal studies – that these chemicals can disrupt hormone systems, with possible effects on physiological development, sexual maturation and fertility, the US Food and Drug Administration banned the compounds from a number of hand and body washes in 2016. There is a partial ban on triclosan in the European Union. But the signatories of the Florence Statement would like regulatory agencies around the world to take similar action. “These chemicals don’t really obey borders,” says Rolf Halden, an author of the statement and the director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University. “They are not a local problem, they’re an environmental issue that essentially reaches around the globe.”
6-20-17 DNA variants that are bad for health may also make you stupid
DNA variants that are bad for health may also make you stupid
A study of Scottish families hints that DNA mutations that damage health also impair intelligence. CRISPR gene-editing may be a way to boost brain and body. What makes some people smarter than others? A genetic analysis of families in Scotland, UK, hints that brainer people have fewer DNA mutations that impair intelligence and general health, rather than having more genetic variants that make them smarter. “This is one of the most exciting studies on the genetics of intelligence I’ve seen for a while,” says Steve Stewart-Williams of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, who was not involved in the work. One implication is that using gene editing to fix the hundreds of mutations that slightly damage people’s health would make them smarter as well as healthier. “I think this strengthens the moral case for pursuing genome editing technologies,” says ethicist Christopher Gyngell of the University of Oxford. “It would be killing two birds with one stone, and that would be a good thing.” There is no doubt that intelligence depends partly on the environment in which we grow up. Well-nourished children brought up in safe, unpolluted and stimulating environments on average score better in IQ tests than deprived children, for instance. But our genes also play a role. Studies of twins have suggested that 50 to 80 per cent of the variation in general intelligence between people could be down to genes. However, finding the gene variants responsible for intelligence has proven tricky. So far, studies of the DNA of hundreds of thousands of unrelated people suggest that only around 30 per cent of the variation in intelligence is inherited. This big discrepancy between the results of twin studies and genome studies has become known as the mystery of the missing heritability.
6-20-17 Go ahead, be distracted
Go ahead, be distracted
Is distraction a curse or a blessing? Not giving full attention to what we should be doing makes us miss deadlines, fail classes, and crash into other drivers. Distraction certainly has a price. Nonetheless, we love our distractions! Social media, spectator sports, movies, books, TV shows, the news, video games — what would we do without them? Clearly, there are benefits to distractions as evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone on Earth seeks them out. But why? Although they seem to pull us away from more important things, what purpose do they serve? And, when at times we seem to give in to distractions, how do we ensure they serve us well?
- Distractions can ease pain
- Distractions can make us better
- When are distractions destructive?
- Distractions aren't always bad, sometimes they are useful tools.
- Personal technology distractions like video games and puzzles can give us strength to endure negative experiences.
- Some distractions can strengthen our ability to tackle new challenges.
- Personal technology is a healthy distraction for most people, but it can go bad when it becomes an escape from an uncomfortable reality. It all depends on why and how long we use it.
- Using distractions for self-expansion builds strength, while using them for self-suppression simply shields us from the pain we're avoiding.
- To determine if a distraction is self-expansive or self-suppressing, get to the bottom of why you are really using it.
- Self-suppression is acceptable for coping with negative experiences in the short term, but can backfire when used as a long-term solution.
6-19-17 Anxiety drug may prevent common virus that causes birth defects
Anxiety drug may prevent common virus that causes birth defects
Cytomegalovirus is a common cause of seizures, deafness and Zika-like symptoms in infants. An anxiety drug available in France protects mice from the virus. An anxiety drug could prevent a common virus from causing birth defects and deafness, a study in newborn mice suggests. Roughly four in every 1000 babies are infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can cause seizures and intellectual disability, as well as Zika-like symptoms including microcephaly. It can also cause deafness. The virus is usually passed to infants during pregnancy. While some babies are born with clear signs of infection, some don’t go on to develop symptoms until later on. Valnoctamide, an anxiety drug available in France and Italy, seems to reduce CMV levels in infected mice, but it hasn’t been clear if it would have a similar effect on the brain, where CMV causes the most damage. To investigate, Anthony Van den Pol at the Yale School of Medicine and his team injected infected mice with either a daily dose of valnoctamide or a control substance. “Mice that were injected with valnoctamide were more likely to survive. They lived longer, their body weight was greater – everything about them looked better,” says Van den Pol.
6-19-17 New fossils shake up history of amphibians with no legs
New fossils shake up history of amphibians with no legs
Tiny skulls and other bits hint at unexpected backstory for today’s snake-shaped caecilians. Small and possibly living underground, the newly named extinct Chinlestegophis still had legs but might be an ancient near-relative of today’s legless caecilian amphibians. Newly named fossils suggest that a weird and varied chapter in amphibian deep history isn’t totally over. Small fossils about 220 million years old found along steep red slopes in Colorado represent a near-relative of modern animals called caecilians, says vertebrate paleontologist Adam Huttenlocker of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Caecilians today have long wormy bodies with either shrunken legs or none at all. Yet the nearly 200 modern species of these toothy, burrow-dwelling tropical oddballs are genuine amphibians. The fossil creatures, newly named Chinlestegophis jenkinsi, still had legs but could be the oldest known near-relatives of caecilians, Huttenlocker and colleagues suggest.
6-19-17 Volcanoes 'triggered dawn of dinosaurs'
Volcanoes 'triggered dawn of dinosaurs'
Scientists say intense eruptions took place 200 million years ago. A million-year-long period of extreme volcanic activity most likely paved the way for the dawn of the dinosaurs, a study suggests. Scientists have analysed ancient rocks and have found traces of emissions from huge volcanic eruptions that happened about 200 million years ago. This would have led to one of the largest mass extinctions on record, enabling dinosaurs to become dominant. The study is published in the journal PNAS. Lead author Lawrence Percival, from the Earth sciences department at Oxford University, said: "The dinosaurs were able to exploit those ecological niches that were left vacant by the extinction."
6-19-17 African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test
African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test
Cultural parenting styles shape how children manage self-control. A 4-year-old boy from a Nso farming community in Cameroon faces down a puff-puff pastry while waiting for a second treat during a battle of self-control known as the marshmallow test. Children of Nso farmers in Cameroon know how to master the marshmallow test, which has tempted away the self-control of Western kids for decades. In a direct comparison on this delayed gratification task, Cameroonian youngsters leave middle-class German children in the dust when challenged to resist a reachable treat while waiting for another goodie, a new study finds. Of 76 Nso 4-year-olds, 53, or nearly 70 percent, waited 10 minutes for a second treat — a small local pastry called a puff-puff — without eating the puff-puff placed on a table in front of them, say psychologist Bettina Lamm of Osnabrück University in Germany and colleagues. Only 35 of 125 German 4-year-olds, or 28 percent, successfully waited for their choice of a second lollipop or chocolate bar. The study, which is the first to administer the marshmallow test to non-Western kids, shows that cultural styles of child raising can dramatically shift how self-control develops, Lamm’s team contends online June 6 in Child Development.
6-16-17 Drinking speeds mental decline
Drinking speeds mental decline
Yet more bad news for drinkers: As little as one glass of wine or beer a night may accelerate mental deterioration later in life. Researchers analyzed data from a British study that tracked 550 men and women for 30 years. The subjects were tracked for alcohol intake and monitored for brain structure and function. The researchers found that those who drank moderately, consuming about five to eight drinks each week, were three times more likely than the nondrinkers to suffer from shrinkage in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning. Shrinkage in this region is associated with dementia, and the more people drank, the worse their mental decline. The moderate drinkers also performed worse on verbal fluency tests used to assess language and executive function. “These findings raise a question mark over the safety of current U.S. alcohol guidelines,” study author Anya Topiwala tells CBSNews.com. “These are people who are drinking at levels that many consider social drinkers.”
6-16-17 Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes
Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes
Mind-body practices like yoga relieve stress, but do they also make you healthier? An analysis of 18 trials suggest they might, through changes in gene activity. Meditation and tai chi don’t just calm the mind – they seem to affect our DNA too. There’s evidence that such “mind-body practices” dampen the activity of genes associated with inflammation – essentially reversing molecular damage caused by stress. Mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation are widely claimed to protect against stress-related diseases from arthritis to dementia. But although there’s plenty of evidence that they can relieve stress, the scientific case for physical health benefits has not yet been proven. Recent advances mean it’s now easier to study patterns of gene activity inside cells, and there has been growing interest in using this approach to investigate how nurturing inner peace might influence the immune system and disease risk. Ivana Buric, a psychologist at the Coventry University’s Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab, and her colleagues have now conducted the first systematic review of such studies. The team analysed 18 trials including 846 participants, ranging from a 2005 study of Qigong to a 2014 trial that tested whether tai chi influenced gene activity in people with insomnia. Although the quality of studies was mixed and the results were complex, Buric says an overall pattern emerged. Genes related to inflammation became less active in people practicing mind-body interventions. Genes controlled by a key protein that acts as an inflammation “on-switch” – called NF-?B – seem to be particularly affected.
6-16-17 A new view of human evolution
A new view of human evolution
Scientists have unveiled what they believe are the oldest Homo sapiens remains ever found, a major discovery that potentially upends our understanding of when and where our species evolved. The fossils—a skull, bones, and teeth from five individuals—were unearthed in a remote area of Morocco, in what was once a cave. After using advanced dating analysis on stone tools and a tooth found at the excavation site, researchers determined that the bones are between 300,000 and 350,000 years old—100,000 years older than any other known Homo sapiens fossils. The individuals had a mixture of modern and primitive characteristics, with a face and jutting jaw nearly identical to that of a modern human, and an elongated brain case characteristic of early humans. Until now, it was widely believed Homo sapiens evolved from earlier forms of the Homo genus in a small region of East Africa about 200,000 years ago, then spread out across the continent and the world. This discovery suggests our species arose much earlier, and that the process took place over a wider area. “We did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind,’” paleoanthropologist Philipp Gunz, who co-authored the research, tells The New York Times. “We evolved on the African continent.” That conclusion remains controversial. With no universally accepted set of features that distinguishes modern humans from our older ancestors, some paleontologists say the new remains are merely an example of early humans just before they evolved into Homo sapiens.
6-16-17 Aztec temple discovered
Aztec temple discovered
Archaeologists have uncovered a giant temple to the Aztec wind god in the heart of Mexico City, alongside a court where Aztecs played an often deadly ball game. Mexico City was built on top of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, and the temple ruins were found underneath a 1950s hotel. It is believed the circular-shaped temple was built during the 1486–1502 reign of the Aztec emperor Ahuizotl, the predecessor of Montezuma, who was toppled during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Archaeologists also discovered 32 severed male neck vertebrae in a pile just off the ball court: Prisoners of war were sometimes made to play the game and were sacrificed when they lost.
6-16-17 Archaeologists in Ethiopia uncover ancient city in Harlaa
Archaeologists in Ethiopia uncover ancient city in Harlaa
A forgotten city thought to date back as far as the 10th century AD has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists in eastern Ethiopia. Artefacts from Egypt, India and China have been found in the city in the Harlaa region. The archaeologists also uncovered a 12th Century mosque which is similar to those found in Tanzania and Somaliland. Archaeologists says this proves historic connections between different Islamic communities in Africa. "This discovery revolutionises our understanding of trade in an archaeologically neglected part of Ethiopia. What we have found shows this area was the centre of trade in that region," lead archaeologist Professor Timothy Insoll from the University of Exeter said.
6-15-17 Ancient attack marks show ocean predators got scarier
Ancient attack marks show ocean predators got scarier
Holes in shells reveal predators that kill by drilling just kept getting bigger. Predators such as moon snails that kill by drilling through other animals’ shells offer a rare chance to test an idea about the power of enemies. In pumped-up sequels for scary beach movies, each predator is bigger than the last. Turns out that predators in real-world oceans may have upsized over time, too. Attack holes in nearly 7,000 fossil shells suggest that drilling predators have outpaced their prey in evolving ever larger bodies and weapons, says paleontologist Adiël Klompmaker of the University of California, Berkeley. The ability to drill through a seashell lets predatory snails, octopuses, one-celled amoeba-like forams and other hungry beasts reach the soft meat despite prey armor. Millions of years later, CSI Paleontology can use these drill holes to test big evolutionary ideas about the power of predators. “Predators got bigger — three words!” is Klompmaker’s bullet point for the work. Over the last 450 million years or so, drill holes have grown in average size from 0.35 millimeters to 3.25 millimeters, Klompmaker and an international team report June 16 in Science. Larger holes generally mean larger attackers, the researchers say, after looking at 556 modern drillers and the size of their attack holes.
6-14-17 New heart attack treatment uses photosynthetic bacteria to make oxygen
New heart attack treatment uses photosynthetic bacteria to make oxygen
Cyanobacteria lessened damage to rat hearts deprived of blood supply. When exposed to light, photosynthetic bacteria make oxygen that can keep rat heart cells alive after a heart attack. Acting like miniature trees that soak up sunlight and release oxygen, photosynthetic bacteria injected into the heart may lighten the damage from heart attacks, a new study in rats suggests. When researchers injected the bacteria into rats’ hearts, the microbes restored oxygen to heart tissue after blood supply was cut off as in a heart attack, researchers at Stanford University report June 14 in Science Advances. “It’s really out of the box,” says Himadri Pakrasi, a systems biologist at Washington University in St. Louis who was not involved in the research. “It reads like science fiction to me, but it’s fantastic if it works.” The organism, called Synechococcus elongatus, has been used recently to produce biofuels, but this may be the first time the cyanobacteria have ever been used in a medical setting, he says.
6-14-17 Five kilograms of broccoli in a pill slashes diabetics’ blood sugar
Five kilograms of broccoli in a pill slashes diabetics’ blood sugar
A concentrated broccoli extract taken daily helps people with type-2 diabetes reduce blood glucose by 10 per cent – lowering their risk of other complications. Doctors frequently tell us to eat our greens, but soon they could be prescribing broccoli. A powder that contains concentrated extract from the vegetable could prove indispensable to people with type 2 diabetes. The extract reduced blood sugar levels by up to 10 per cent in people with the disease. Type 2 diabetes usually develops around middle age, often in people who are overweight. Their body stops responding to insulin, which controls the level of glucose in the blood. Abnormal insulin regulation causes a rise in blood sugar levels, which can raise people’s chances of heart attacks, blindness and kidney problems. People with the condition are often prescribed metformin, which helps to lower blood glucose. However, as many as 15 per cent cannot take this therapy because of kidney damage risks. “More research is needed to see if this repurposed drug can be used to treat Type 2 diabetes, as it was only tested in a small number of people and only helped a subset of those who are taking it,” says Elizabeth Robertson, of the charity Diabetes UK. “For now, we recommend that people continue with the treatment prescribed by their healthcare team.”
6-14-17 How to extinguish the inflammation epidemic
How to extinguish the inflammation epidemic
Stress, obesity and poor diet trigger persistent inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and depression. We’re finally working out how to fight it. Until recently, we have known little about how what starts as a protective immune process in the body goes awry, and there have been frustratingly few evidence-based suggestions on what we should do about it. But now we are starting to learn more about how the process works, how it connects body and mind, and what we might do to keep it in check. This new understanding is leading to treatments that may finally let us douse this constant fire – not by stopping it from happening, but by turning it off when it is no longer useful. “There’s no question, inflammation is everything,” says Charles Serhan, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School. “In the post-genomic era, understanding inflammation is the next frontier.” Inflammation is the body’s first line of defence. Without it, we would be at the mercy of every pathogen going. When the body’s protective barrier has been breached by injury or infection, the classic inflammatory response brings redness, heat, swelling and pain. First, damaged cells secrete chemicals known as cytokines, which increase blood flow to the affected area and alert the rest of the immune system to prepare for a fight. Heat comes as a side effect of increased blood flow, redness as blood vessels dilate, bringing blood closer to the surface of the skin, and swelling happens as blood vessels become more permeable, allowing fluid and white blood cells to leak out and flood the tissue. These cells then attack and gobble up any invading pathogens, and later clear up the debris.
6-14-17 Microdosers say tiny hits of LSD make your work and life better
Microdosers say tiny hits of LSD make your work and life better
People are increasingly taking daily, low doses of illegal psychedelic drugs to up their game at work and improve their mood. Will we all be doing it one day? FOR over a year, Janet Lai Chang took magic mushrooms a few times a week before going to work. She says it made her happier, reduced her social anxiety and helped her build relationships. Chang is one of many who have added a pinch of psychedelic drugs to their daily routine in recent years. Followers say this “microdosing” regime doesn’t send them tripping, but merely gives them a boost to improve their mood or performance. The effects they report seem plausible, but as psychedelics are illegal in most countries, such claims have not been backed up by much research. There has been a recent revival in scientific trials of psychedelic drugs for treating depression and anxiety, but with microdosing people are doing their own experiments, away from the strict regulations of clinical research. Yet as Chang’s experiences show, the findings are tantalising. So can these new investigations into psychedelic pick-me-ups yield any decent insights? And could you one day be dropping acid alongside your morning vitamin?
6-14-17 Don’t feel sorry for apologising – it could be good for you
Don’t feel sorry for apologising – it could be good for you
We are told that apologising too much undermines our authority and damages our self-esteem, but saying you’re sorry has some surprising upsides. You might think there’s nothing wrong with just being polite, but the media tells us all this over-apologising is damaging our self-esteem, undermining us in the workplace, and could even be bad for our health. So as an ardent over-apologiser, should I do something about it? The answer is complex and depends on what the apology is for, but it’s starting to become clear that saying sorry can have surprising upsides.Much of the recent discussion on over-apologising has focused on the idea that women are particularly prone to it. One survey on the problem found that 44 per cent of women thought that they tend to apologise too much, whereas just 5 per cent of them thought this was true of men. Men on the other hand tended to think that women and men both “got it about right”. When Karina Schumann of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began her post-graduate studies in psychology 11 years ago, she was confronted with similar ideas. “I kept coming across this stereotype. Big claims were being made with no real evidence: people were saying that men never apologise because they’re unwilling to admit fault and their egos get in the way, whereas women apologise for everything without even thinking about it. I felt there needed to be some science to back this up,” she says. So Schumann asked a group of Canadian students to keep a daily diary of any events that could have potentially deserved an apology, and whether they said sorry.
6-14-17 Ancient bird like 'a kangaroo-sized flying turkey'
Ancient bird like 'a kangaroo-sized flying turkey'
It has been described as a "giant flying turkey" the size of a grey kangaroo by Australian scientists. It is actually an extinct species of megapode bird - an ancient cousin of the modern Malleefowl, which famously builds mounds of earth and leaf litter in which to lay and incubate its eggs. Progura gallinacea probably didn’t do that, however. It lacked the Malleefowl’s large feet and specialised claws, the researchers tell a Royal Society journal. Instead, it’s quite likely P. gallinacea simply buried its eggs in warm sand or soil, just as some living megapodes in Indonesia and the Pacific still do. A team from Flinders University in Adelaide assessed new and old fossil finds in producing its report.
6-13-17 Live antibiotics use bacteria to kill bacteria
Live antibiotics use bacteria to kill bacteria
Prescribing a predator could be the answer to multidrug resistance. Bdellovibrio bacteria attack larger bacteria, using the prey’s remains to replicate. Bdellovibrio microbes are a kind of living antibiotic. The woman in her 70s was in trouble. What started as a broken leg led to an infection in her hip that hung on for two years and several hospital stays. At a Nevada hospital, doctors gave the woman seven different antibiotics, one after the other. The drugs did little to help her. Lab results showed that none of the 14 antibiotics available at the hospital could fight the infection, caused by the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae. Epidemiologist Lei Chen of the Washoe County Health District sent a bacterial sample to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria, CDC scientists found, produced a nasty enzyme called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, known for disabling many antibiotics. The enzyme was first seen in a patient from India, which is where the Nevada woman broke her leg and received treatment before returning to the United States. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people in the United States every year, and at least 23,000 die, according to 2013 data, the most recent available from the CDC. It’s time to flip the nightmare scenario and send a killer after the killer bacteria, say a handful of scientists with a new approach for fighting infection. The strategy, referred to as a “living antibiotic,” would pit one group of bacteria — given as a drug and dubbed “the predators” — against the bacteria that are wreaking havoc among humans. (Webmaster's comment: The big problem with this approach is that when the killer bacteria are eaten the predator bacteria might evolve to eat something else in the patient.)
6-13-17 Ladybugs fold their wings like origami masters
Ladybugs fold their wings like origami masters
Slow-motion video reveals the complex movements. Ladybugs fold up their wings when they land. To view that process, scientists replaced part of a ladybug’s red-and-black wing case with a transparent resin. Those who struggle to fit a vacation wardrobe into a carry-on might learn from ladybugs. The flying beetles neatly fold up their wings when they land, stashing the delicate appendages underneath their protective red and black forewings. To learn how one species of ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) achieves such efficient packing, scientists needed to see under the bug’s spotted exterior. So a team from Japan replaced part of a ladybug’s forewing with a transparent bit of resin, to get a first-of-its-kind glimpse of the folding. Slow-motion video of the altered ladybug showed that the insect makes a complex, origami-like series of folds to stash its wings, the scientists report in the May 30 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. CT scans helped explain how the wings can be both strong enough to hold the insects aloft and easily foldable into a tiny package. The shape of the wing veins allows them to flex like a metal tape measure, making the wings stiff but bendable. Lessons learned from the wings could be applied to new technologies, including foldable aircraft wings or solar panels that unfurl from a spacecraft.
6-13-17 Ancient DNA shakes up the elephant family tree
Ancient DNA shakes up the elephant family tree
Straight-tusked elephants were more closely related to African, not Asian, species. The first DNA analysis of straight-tusked elephants finds they are most closely related to modern African forest elephants, suggesting the extinct animals have been lumped in with the wrong elephant lineage for decades. Fossil DNA may be rewriting the history of elephant evolution. The first genetic analysis of DNA from fossils of straight-tusked elephants reveals that the extinct animals most closely resembled modern African forest elephants. This suggests that straight-tusked elephants were part of the African, not Asian, elephant lineage, scientists report online June 6 in eLife. Straight-tusked elephants roamed Europe and Asia until about 30,000 years ago. Much like modern Asian elephants, they sported high foreheads, double-domed skulls and downward sloping spines. These features convinced scientists for decades that straight-tusked and Asian elephants were sister species, says Adrian Lister, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the study.
6-13-17 Human activity is creating new minerals on Earth
Human activity is creating new minerals on Earth
Scientists have discovered about 200 new mineral compounds, created accidentally as a result of human activity. The new minerals were identified by research scientist Robert Hazen and a team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. Their study is published in the journal American Mineralogist. "This is the greatest 'punctuation event' in the evolution of minerals," Hazen says. "If you can imagine a future geologist — a hundred million years from now, a billion years from now — coming back to Earth and studying the various strata that have been laid down, perhaps going through a Grand Canyonlike structure that cuts through the strata of our time, [they] could see this rich layer with all of these unusual crystals. These are things that are going to persist for hundreds of millions of years, so, in a sense, humans are creating their own geological time strata." One of the big questions occupying geologists is what epoch humanity currently lives in — whether we've transitioned from the Holocene era, which began some 12,000 years ago after the last ice age, into a new period known as the Anthropocene, or the Age of Man. The discovery of new chemical compounds that did not, and could not, exist before the Age of Man makes a strong case that Earth has, indeed, entered a new era, Hazen believes. "I do think that there's a very distinctive horizon of human-made crystals, unlike anything that's occurred before in the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth," he says. "Now, it's up to the stratigraphers, who are the official guardians of nomenclature, to decide this, but it certainly seems to me that from a mineralogical point of view, at least, we're in a new era of mineral evolution."
6-12-17 Eating a low carb breakfast may make you a more tolerant person
Eating a low carb breakfast may make you a more tolerant person
Diets low in carbohydrates may change your behaviour, making you less likely to punish people who split money unfairly. A low-carb diet might do more than affect your health – it could make you a more tolerant person. People who ate fewer carbohydrates for breakfast made more forgiving decisions in a money-sharing game they played a few hours later. “Extreme [low-carb] diets might be influencing people’s behaviour,” says Soyoung Park of the University of Lübeck in Germany. This could be because less starchy meals tend to have more protein, which boosts levels of dopamine in the brain, involved in decision making. Standard advice is that we should base our meals around starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes and pasta. Low-carbers tend to have a higher protein intake because they replace these foods with protein-rich meat, dairy and nuts. Dietary protein affects the levels of an amino acid that is a precursor to dopamine in our blood. Since increasing the amino acid increases dopamine, and dopamine affects decision-making, Park wondered if a low-carb diet might change people’s behaviour. To find out, her team asked people to participate in the “ultimatum game”, in which you are split into pairs and your partner is given some money and they decide how much to share with you. If you accept the offer, both of you get the cash, but if you reject it, no one gets anything.
6-12-17 Pig brain cells implanted into brains of people with Parkinson’s
Pig brain cells implanted into brains of people with Parkinson’s
Four people with Parkinson’s disease who received implants of around 1000 pig cells have shown improvements, and a larger trial of the technique is under way. Would you have pig cells implanted in your brain? Some people with Parkinson’s disease have, in the hope it will stop their disease progressing. The approach is still in the early stages of testing, but initial results from four people look promising, with all showing some improvement 18 months after surgery. People with Parkinson’s disease, which causes tremors and difficulty moving, usually get worse over time. The disease is caused by the gradual loss of brain cells that make dopamine, a compound that helps control our movements. Current medicines replace the missing dopamine, but their effectiveness wears off over the years. So Living Cell Technologies, based in Auckland, New Zealand, has been developing a treatment that uses cells from the choroid plexus in pigs. This brain structure makes a cocktail of growth factors and signalling molecules known to help keep nerve cells healthy.
6-12-17 DeepMind’s neural network teaches AI to reason about the world
DeepMind’s neural network teaches AI to reason about the world
Understanding the relationship between previously unseen objects is a key part of human intelligence, but a new system from DeepMind attempts to give AI the skill. The world is a confusing place, especially for an AI. But a neural network developed by UK artificial intelligence firm DeepMind that gives computers the ability to understand how different objects are related to each other could help bring it into focus. Humans use this type of inference – called relational reasoning – all the time, whether we are choosing the best bunch of bananas at the supermarket or piecing together evidence from a crime scene. The ability to transfer abstract relations – such as whether something is to the left of another or bigger than it – from one domain to another gives us a powerful mental toolset with which to understand the world. It is a fundamental part of our intelligence says Sam Gershman, a computational neuroscientist at Harvard University. What’s intuitive for humans is very difficult for machines to grasp, however. It is one thing for an AI to learn how to perform a specific task, such as recognising what is in an image. But transferring know-how learned via image recognition to textual analysis – or any other reasoning task – is a big challenge. Machines capable of such versatility will be one step closer to general intelligence, the kind of smarts that lets humans excel at many different activities.
6-12-17 The oldest living thing on Earth
The oldest living thing on Earth
Mayflies live a day, humans live a century, if we're lucky, but what is the oldest living organism on the planet? For scientists, accurately proving the age of any long-lived species is a hard task. Under the boughs of a 300-year-old sweet chestnut tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, Tony Kirkham, head of the arboretum, confirms that trees are capable of outliving animals. Proving this can involve some traditional detective work, as he explains: "First of all we can look at previous records, to find out if a tree was growing there at a set date. Then we look at paintings and artwork, to look to see if that tree was present. And old ordinance survey maps quite clearly show ancient trees, especially important ones." A well-known way of measuring the age of a tree is by counting the rings in its trunk: one ring per year of growth. It's a process known as dendrochronology and only works for certain types of tree that have an annual growth spurt. The obvious problem is that counting rings normally involves cutting down the tree. Arboriculturalists get around this by using an increment borer, a drill that allows them to take out a core, and count the rings without fatally damaging the tree. It's a delicate art, and, Tony says, back in the 1960s, one scientist's drill broke off inside the bristlecone pine tree he was sampling. The kit is expensive, and to help him recover the lost instrument, a forester helpfully cut down the tree. Once felled, the tree could be easily aged, and was found to be 5000 years old.
6-12-17 New dinosaur resurrects a demon from Ghostbusters
New dinosaur resurrects a demon from Ghostbusters
Found in Montana, the skeleton is the most complete ankylosaur unearthed to date. An armored dinosaur’s skull suggests that its face resembled that of a demon in Ghostbusters, so the researchers named it Zuul crurivastator. But the dino was a plant eater, not a predator. Zuul crurivastator is a dino, not a demon. A 75-million-year-old skeleton unearthed in Montana in 2014 reveals a tanklike dinosaur with a spiked club tail and a face that probably looked a lot like its cinematic namesake. The find is the most complete fossil of an ankylosaur, a type of armored dinosaur, found in North America, researchers report May 10 in Royal Society Open Science. It includes a complete skull and tail club, plus some preserved soft tissue, says study co-author Victoria Arbour, a paleobiologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “It really gives us a good idea of what these animals looked like.” The bones reveal that Z. crurivastator had spikes running all the way down its tail, not just on the club itself. That arrangement means the weaponry was more than just a “massive sledgehammer,” Arbour says. The club was a formidable weapon. The term crurivastator comes from the Latin for “shin destroyer.”
6-9-17 Cystic fibrosis drug halts lung damage in young children
Cystic fibrosis drug halts lung damage in young children
Orkambi targets the most common mutation for cystic fibrosis, but is not available in the UK on the NHS. Now a trial has shown promising effects in children. A drug for cystic fibrosis has improved lung function in children under the age of 12, raising hopes that the life-threatening lung damage caused by the genetic disease can be halted or even reversed. “It’s a major step forward,” comments Nick Medhurst, head of policy at the UK charity, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. “What these results show is that it can prevent irreversible damage.” Since the CFTR gene was discovered in 1989 researchers have tried to develop drugs that directly target the faulty protein it makes in those who have the disease, with some success. Kalydeco helps cells make a correct version of the CFTR protein and has been available since 2012, but it only works for CFTR mutations present in 5 per cent of people with the condition. But new results from a phase III clinical trial suggest that the drug can stop the otherwise inexorable damage to the lungs that people with cystic fibrosis experience throughout their lives. The results also show that the drug can be beneficial for young children. At present, Orkambi is only approved in the EU for people over the age of 12.
6-9-17 Therapy flags DNA typos to rev cancer-fighting T cells
Therapy flags DNA typos to rev cancer-fighting T cells
Disabled spell-checker identifies patients who may benefit from immune therapy. An antibody sold as the drug Keytruda helps turn on cancer-fighting T cells. Tumors can use PD-1 proteins to lock onto T cells and shut them down. The antibody blocks PD-1 proteins, freeing T cells to attack the cancer. Mutations that prevent cells from spell-checking their DNA may make cancer cells vulnerable to immunotherapies, a new study suggests. A type of immune therapy known as PD-1 blockade controlled cancer in 77 percent of patients with defects in DNA mismatch repair — the system cells use to spell-check and fix errors in DNA (SN Online: 10/7/15). The therapy was effective against 12 different types of solid tumors, including colorectal, gastroesophageal and pancreatic cancers, and even tumors of unknown origin, researchers report June 8 in Science. “Where the tumor started doesn’t matter. What matters is why the tumor started,” says study coauthor Richard Goldberg, an oncologist at West Virginia University Cancer Institute in Morgantown.
6-9-17 These scientists think mushrooms might have superpowers
These scientists think mushrooms might have superpowers
Recently, around 2,500 people with some connection to hallucinogenic drugs gathered at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, California for what might best be described as the psychedelics state of the union. Psychedelic Science 2017, as it was more formally known, drew professionals of all stripes: chemists who make the hallucinogens, neuroscientists who study their effects on the brain, therapists who discuss their after-effects on patients, shamans and healers who administer the drugs, and anthropologists like Joanna Steinhardt, who are trying to make sense of the meaning of psychedelic culture. At the conference, Steinhardt, a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, delivered a talk describing her research on a specific subset of amateur scientists within this world: DIY mycologists. Some of these mushroom enthusiasts who grow their fungi at home use them in recipes, or to make medicinal tinctures. But others get more creative, using them for citizen-science projects like myco-remediation (cleaning environmental toxins with fungi), myco-forestry (using mushrooms to maintain forest health), and doing DNA analysis on mushrooms to determine local strains.
6-9-17 Extreme plants thrive at 72°C (162°F) in New Zealand’s hot volcanic soil
Extreme plants thrive at 72°C (162°F) in New Zealand’s hot volcanic soil
Mosses and liverworts have been found growing in hot geothermal fields in the highly active Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand. A survey of plants growing in a highly-active volcanic area in New Zealand, where soil temperatures can reach 98.5°C (209°F), has revealed several species of vegetation that can survive the extreme conditions. Geothermal fields, areas where the ground is heated up by molten rock below, are known for their hot springs and geysers. But they contain distinct vegetation, too. Mark Smale at Landcare Research in New Zealand and his team surveyed 15 of these fields in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand’s North Island. They sampled vegetation, measured soil temperatures, and analysed soil samples to determine the pH level and metal content, for example. Geothermal soil often has extreme pH levels, and unusually high – and sometimes toxic – levels of metals such as aluminium, which are thought to affect plant growth. Plants with shallow roots, for example mosses and liverworts, were the only survivors in zones with extremely hot soil, the temperature of which they measured at 10 centimetres below the surface. Smale and his colleagues found that a moss, dwarf swan-neck moss (Campylopus pyriformis), which thrives in a range of climates, was the most heat-tolerant plant in the areas they surveyed. It was found in soil where temperatures reached 72°C (162°F).
6-9-17 Alzheimer’s deaths surging
Alzheimer’s deaths surging
The number of people dying from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. has soared 55 percent over the past 15 years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The incurable neurodegenerative condition, which ultimately results in the loss of critical brain function, claimed the lives of 93,541 Americans in 2014, up from 44,536 in 1999. Scientists believe several factors are contributing to this troubling trend, including an aging population, greater longevity, improved diagnoses, and an increased willingness among doctors to identify Alzheimer’s as a cause of death. The CDC notes that more Alzheimer’s patients are dying at home, suggesting the burden of the disease is weighing more heavily on loved ones and personal caregivers, reports NBCNews.com. “As the number of older Americans with the disease rises,” says CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, “more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver than ever before.” Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.5 million Americans. The CDC projects that by 2050 some 13.8 million people age 65 and older will be diagnosed with the debilitating disorder.
6-9-17 Fiber prevents knee arthritis
Fiber prevents knee arthritis
Dietitians often extol the myriad digestive benefits associated with a high-fiber diet. Now new research suggests that eating more nuts, legumes, fruit, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods could also reduce inflammation and the risk for osteoarthritis of the knee. An international team of researchers analyzed data from two long-term studies that tracked the diet, lifestyle, and overall joint health of about 6,000 people. The first study found that people who ate an average of about 21 grams of fiber each day had a 30 percent lower risk for knee osteoarthritis than those who ate less than 9 grams. The second found that those who consumed nearly 26 grams of fiber daily had a 61 percent lower risk for the disease than those who ate less than 14 grams a day. “Increasing dietary fiber is one of the most economical ways to reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis,” lead author Zhaoli Dai tells The New York Times. “And there are a lot of other benefits as well: reduced weight, reduced cardiovascular risk, and reduced diabetes risk.”
6-9-17 The downsides of secrets
The downsides of secrets
Keeping secrets can lead to stress, sleep loss, and other unhealthy consequences, new research suggests. Psychologists at Columbia Business School asked 1,200 Americans online, and 312 in person, about their secrets. Participants admitted to keeping an average of 13 things to themselves—such as thoughts of infidelity, sexual fantasies, and betrayals of trust—including five about which they’d never told anyone. But the researchers found that they spent twice as much time dwelling on their secrets in private than they did actively concealing them from others—and that the more often people ruminated on their secrets, the less healthy they said they were. “Secrets exert a gravitational pull on our attention,” study co-author Malia Mason tells MedicalDaily.com. “It’s the cyclical revisiting of our mistakes that explains the harmful effects that secrets can have on our well-being and relationship satisfaction.”
6-9-17 Fungus creates zombie beetles that crave flowers before death
Fungus creates zombie beetles that crave flowers before death
The infected beetles seek out flowers, stick their heads in and bite for their life. Then, hours after dying, their wings mysteriously spring into action. Dying on a bed of flowers might seem like a good way to go. Except it’s not when you’re a beetle suffering a gruesome fungal infection. Goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) feed and mate on flowers – and that’s where some of them meet their end, too. When infected with the fungus Eryniopsis lampyridarum, the beetles clamp their jaws onto a flower and die soon after. Hours later and still stuck to the flowers, the dead beetles’ wings snap open as though ready to fly. With their wings raised, these beetles even attract mates – live males were seen having sex with zombie females. He thinks this greatly increases the chance that the fungal infection will be picked up by healthy beetles. It attaches the infected beetles exactly where other healthy beetles are feeding and looking for mates.
6-9-17 Primitive whales had mediocre hearing
Primitive whales had mediocre hearing
Fossils suggest highly specialized sounds whales use to communicate were not an early innovation. Modern whales hear either really high or really low frequency sounds, depending on the species. A new study suggests that their earliest whale ancestors may have been limited in their hearing. Unlike today’s whales that specialize in making — and hearing — very high- or low-pitched sounds, early whales’ ears probably picked up noises somewhere in the middle, paleontologists Mickaël Mourlam and Maeva Orliac report June 8 in Current Biology. Looking at CT scans of ancient whale ear bones allowed the researchers, from the University of Montpellier in France, to weigh in on a long-standing debate over the evolution of whale hearing. At the heart of the controversy is when whales got their super-hearing abilities. Those abilities allow today’s whales to chitchat long distance and use sound to locate prey with calls that fall under the radar of human ears. Modern toothy whale species such as orcas specialize in high-frequency sounds, while humpbacks and other baleen species are great at detecting low-pitched noises. Toothed and baleen whales split around 35 million years ago, and paleontologists have speculated that the early whales already had some form of extreme hearing — either high or low, depending whom one asks (SN Online: 08/05/16). Both camps might be wrong, the new finding suggests.
6-8-17 Bacteria release aphrodisiacs that put others in mood for sex
Bacteria release aphrodisiacs that put others in mood for sex
Eros protein is the first evidence that bacteria regulate mating of other, non-bacterial creatures. Bacterial secretions put protozoans in the mood for sex. This unexpected aphrodisiac may open the bedroom door for microbiologists to study sexual behaviour in many poorly understood species – and perhaps even in the earliest animals. Until now, the choanoflagellate protozoan Salpingoeca rosetta had shown little interest in mating in lab cultures. A few years ago, a team led by Nicole King at the University of California, Berkeley, coaxed some into mating, though the process took 11 days and involved only a tiny fraction of the cells. But when King’s student Arielle Woznica happened to add a common bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, to a culture, she was surprised to see the choanoflagellates form what appeared to be a mating swarm within a few hours. More careful experiments showed that the choanoflagellates were indeed mating and producing genetically recombined offspring. In collaboration with chemists at Harvard University, the team eventually determined that a protein released by the bacteria was responsible for triggering the swarm. “To our knowledge, it’s the first evidence of bacteria regulating mating,” says King.
6-8-17 Fetuses turn to follow face-like shapes while in the womb
Fetuses turn to follow face-like shapes while in the womb
Newborn babies preferentially look at faces. Now fetuses have been seen tracking a face-like pattern, suggesting this ability develops by the third trimester. Babies look for faces as soon as they are born, and now it seems they can do this while still a fetus inside the uterus. “We already know that fetuses can see,” says Vincent Reid of Lancaster University, UK. “But until now, no one has displayed visual information to the fetus and triggered a response.” Reid’s team has done it by shining three red dots through the skin of women in the final trimester of their pregnancies. When the dots were configured to look something like two eyes above a mouth, the team captured 40 occasions where a fetus seemed to track this pattern when it moved. To watch how the fetus’s head moved, Reid’s team used high-definition ultrasound. The team shone the red lights in a pattern to one side of the fetus’s head, and moved them slowly, to see if the fetus turned to track it. “We were focusing on peripheral vision,” says Reid.
6-8-17 For humans, the appeal of looking at faces starts before birth
For humans, the appeal of looking at faces starts before birth
Experiment is the first to test visual perception in fetuses. For the first time, scientists have peered inside the womb to watch how fetuses react to the sight of different images. Fascination with faces is nature, not nurture, suggests a new study of third-trimester fetuses. Scientists have long known that babies like looking at faces more than other objects. But research published online June 8 in Current Biology offers evidence that this preference develops before birth. In the first-ever study of prenatal visual perception, fetuses were more likely to move their heads to track facelike configurations of light projected into the womb than nonfacelike shapes. Past research has shown that newborns pay special attention to faces, even if a “face” is stripped down to its bare essentials — for instance, a triangle of three dots: two up top for eyes, one below for a mouth or nose. This preoccupation with faces is considered crucial to social development.
6-8-17 It’s best if babies don’t drink their fruit as juice
It’s best if babies don’t drink their fruit as juice
Before age 1, babies should eat fruit, not drink its juice, according to updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The juice saga continues. The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their official ruling on fruit juice, recommending none of the sweet stuff before age 1. Published in the June Pediatrics, the recommendation is more restrictive than the previous one, which advised no juice before age 6 months. The move comes from the recognition that whole fruits — not just the sweet, fiberless liquid contained within — are the most nutritious form of the food. Babies under 1 year old should be getting breast milk or formula until they’re ready to try solid foods. After their first birthdays, any extra liquids they drink should be water or milk. (These updated guidelines may not apply to babies who might need fruit juice to help with constipation.) Whole fruits — or, mashed up clumps of them — have more fiber and protein than juice. The only benefit that juice has over its former whole form is that it’s way easier for a kid to slurp down.
6-8-17 Therapy could stop superbugs on farms
Therapy could stop superbugs on farms
Researchers at Leicester University have shown that it might be possible to develop an alternative to antibiotics for treating diseases in pigs. They have identified a range of viruses, called bacteriophages, that can be used to kill common pig infections. The aim is to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria emerging on farms that could also infect humans. If trials in pigs work, the new therapy could be extended to treat people. Prof Martha Clokie presented her interim results to a pig industry meeting in Solihull. She told BBC News that the early results indicated that phage therapy could be "completely transformative for human health". "There are many infections that we just can't treat with antibiotics because they have become resistant to them. So using the phage therapy for specific diseases could change the way we treat infection. It could give us a whole new armoury." Scientists have been trying to develop phage treatments for more than a century but they have mostly proved to be unreliable. But Prof Clockie has found more precise ways of isolating phages and assessing their effectiveness. The research has been funded by the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board which is responding to concerns about the possibility of so called superbugs developing in farm animals and entering the food chain. Charlotte Evans is leading the project for AHDB. "Pig producers are responding to a pig health and welfare point of view and also reacting to consumer expectations, to help make sure we are being responsible about our antibiotic usage and ensure we safeguard them for the future," she said.
6-8-17 The many reasons why dogs might roll in smelly poo
The many reasons why dogs might roll in smelly poo
Why would a predatory animal coat itself in a pungent scent that makes it easy to spot? The sun shines overhead, while the hum of insects and birdsong completes a beautiful day. On the other side of the park, your pet dog bounces around excitedly. Snuffling the ground, he suddenly stops to enthusiastically roll on the grass before bounding back to you. It is only when you bend to greet him that it hits you: a pungent, foul musky stench. Your dog has rolled in poo. This is something most dog owners will have experienced during a walk. But why do domestic dogs seem to get such joy from smearing another animal's faeces on their coat? "These are animals with a sense of smell that is said to be at least a thousand times more sensitive than our own," says Simon Gadbois, an expert in canid behaviour and scent processing at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "It seems unbelievable they would want to cover themselves in a smell that even to my nose is unbearable, yet they do." Gadbois, who has studied wolves, coyotes and foxes in Canada, also uses domesticated dogs to help track animals in the wild. One of his prized sniffer dogs, a border collie called Zyla, would delight in rubbing herself in beaver excrement whenever they were working in the field. "In case you have never smelt beaver poop before, it is horrible, really vile, and it stinks for weeks afterwards," says Gadbois. "It was always beyond me why she would do this. You would think it would interfere with her ability to smell and track other animals, but remarkably it did not affect her performance one bit."
6-8-17 'Oldest Homo sapiens' found
'Oldest Homo sapiens' found
Fossils of five early humans have been found in North Africa that show Homo sapiens emerged at least 100,000 years earlier than previously recognised.
6-7-17 Oldest known Homo sapiens fossils come from northern Africa, studies claim
Oldest known Homo sapiens fossils come from northern Africa, studies claim
Face, teeth features peg 300,000-year-old fossils as early humans, but brain shape yet to evolve. Approximately 300,000-year-old fossils unearthed in Morocco, including a lower jaw, come from the oldest known Homo sapiens, researchers contend. But some scientists suspect the new finds come from a population that, despite some similarities, lived before the emergence of H. sapiens. In a surprising and controversial geographic twist, the earliest known remains of the human species, Homo sapiens, have turned up in northwestern Africa, researchers claim. Fossils attributed to H. sapiens and stone tools unearthed at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, date to approximately 300,000 years ago, an international team of researchers report June 7 in two papers in Nature. Until now, the oldest human fossils came from East Africa and dated to around 195,000 years ago (SN: 2/26/05, p. 141). Although H. sapiens might have emerged in East Africa, some researchers also categorize a previously discovered fossil skull from South Africa, tentatively dated to about 260,000 years ago, as H. sapiens. The Morocco fossils indicate that humankind’s emergence involved populations across much of Africa, and started about 100,000 years earlier than previously thought, says paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He led the research along with Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Sciences in Rabat, Morocco.
6-7-17 'First of our kind' found in Morocco
'First of our kind' found in Morocco
The idea that modern people evolved in a single "cradle of humanity" in East Africa some 200,000 years ago is no longer tenable, new research suggests. Fossils of five early humans have been found in North Africa that show Homo sapiens emerged at least 100,000 years earlier than previously recognised. It suggests that our species evolved all across the continent, the scientists involved say. Their work is published in the journal Nature. Prof Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told me that the discovery would "rewrite the textbooks" about our emergence as a species. "It is not the story of it happening in a rapid way in a 'Garden of Eden' somewhere in Africa. Our view is that it was a more gradual development and it involved the whole continent. So if there was a Garden of Eden, it was all of Africa."
6-7-17 Our species may be 150,000 years older than we thought
Our species may be 150,000 years older than we thought
New fossil bones and tools from Morocco show that the familiar face of Homo sapiens was present in Africa as early as 350,000 years ago. Has our species been hiding its real age? Fossils found in Morocco suggest the Homo sapiens lineage became distinct as early as 350,000 years ago – adding as much as 150,000 years to our species’ history. “It was indeed a big wow [moment],” says Jean-Jacques Hublin at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led the analysis with Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer at the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage in Rabat, Morocco. On a literal reading of the fossil record, H. sapiens was thought to have emerged in East Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But some researchers have long suspected that the roots of our species are deeper, given that H. sapiens-like fossils in South Africa have been tentatively dated at 260,000 years old.
6-7-17 Baby brain scans can predict who is likely to develop autism
Baby brain scans can predict who is likely to develop autism
A machine-learning program can tell from scans which high-risk infants will later show autism symptoms. This could, controversially, enable early intervention. A machine-learning algorithm has analysed brain scans of 6-month-old children and predicted with near-certainty whether they will show signs of autism when they reach the age of 2. The finding means we may soon be able to intervene before symptoms appear, although whether that would be desirable is a controversial issue. “We have been trying to identify autism as early as possible, most importantly before the actual behavioural symptoms of autism appear,” says team member Robert Emerson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Previous work has identified that bundles of nerve fibres in the brain develop differently in infants with older siblings with autism from how they do in infants without this familial risk factor. The changes in these white matter tracts in the brain are visible at 6 months. For the new study, Emerson and his team did fMRI brain scans of 59 sleeping infants, all of whom were aged 6 months and had older siblings with autism, which means they are more likely to develop autism themselves.
6-7-17 Causing a stink: The truth about fragrances and your health
Causing a stink: The truth about fragrances and your health
Headlines claim scented candles can cause cancer and air fresheners trigger asthma. Is it a load of hot air or is it time to go fragrance-free at work? KATE Grenville realised in her early 30s that wearing perfume gave her a headache. She could manage that. Then it was other people’s perfumes too. But things really got out of hand on a recent trip when she was forced to ask her taxi driver to remove the air freshener in his cab, and later caught herself sealing her hotel room door with tape to keep out the smell from corridor fragrance diffusers. “I had a nasty feeling that I’d just crossed one of life’s little boundaries,” she writes in her new book The Case Against Fragrance. “It was possible I’d joined the section of humanity that thinks the moon landings were faked by the CIA.” In fact, when Grenville started investigating, she found she was far from belonging to such a clique. Surveys suggest that many of us feel negative health effects from fragrances, and if recent headlines are to be believed, our love of a good spritz could be causing asthma, migraines and even cancer. The issue is causing such a stink that some compare it to passive smoking, and are calling for scent-free workplaces and schools. “The results are stunning and consistent. In Australia, a third of the population, and in America, over a third of the population, report one or more types of health problems when exposed to fragranced consumer products,” says Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne. So how worried should we be? Are scented products making people sick, and what should we do about it?
6-7-17 Human tests suggest young blood cuts cancer and Alzheimer’s risk
Human tests suggest young blood cuts cancer and Alzheimer’s risk
Exclusive results from a private trial suggest that treatment with young plasma can lower blood cholesterol and chemicals associated with cancer and Alzheimer’s. TRANSFUSIONS of young blood plasma may cut the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in older people, according to a controversial new study which required participants to pay for their treatment. “I don’t want to say the word ‘panacea’, but there’s something about teenagers,” Jesse Karmazin, founder of start-up Ambrosia, told New Scientist. “Whatever is in young blood is causing changes that appear to make the ageing process reverse.” Since August 2016, Karmazin’s company has been giving people aged 35 to 92 transfusions of blood plasma from people aged between 16 and 25. So far, around 100 people have been treated. The fact that they all paid $8000 to be included, as well as the study’s lack of a placebo group, has attracted much criticism. Karmazin spoke to New Scientist ahead of presenting the study’s first results at Recode, a technology conference in Los Angeles last week. These results come from blood tests on 70 people before a plasma transfusion and a month later. None of the people in the study had cancer at the time of the transfusion, but Karmazin’s team looked at their levels of proteins called carcinoembryonic antigens. These chemicals are found in the blood of healthy people at low concentrations, but in larger amounts can be a sign of cancer. The levels of these antigens fell by around 20 per cent in the blood of those treated, the team found.
6-7-17 Bird caught in amber 100 million years ago is best ever found
Bird caught in amber 100 million years ago is best ever found
A hatchling exquisitely preserved in amber is giving us the best glimpse yet of what an extinct group of birds was like. Insects are not the only creatures that got stuck in amber during the time of the dinosaurs. Bits of ancient birds and dinosaurs have been found too – and now the most complete bird yet has been found. A 100-million-year-old chunk of amber found in Myanmar contains the head, neck, wing, tail and feet of a hatchling. It was just a few days old when it fell into a pool of sap oozing from a conifer tree. “It’s the most complete and detailed view we’ve ever had,” says Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Regina, in Canada, a member of the team that described the find. “Seeing something this complete is amazing. It’s just stunning.” While it looks as if the actual skin and flesh of the bird are preserved in the amber, it’s basically a very detailed impression of the animal, McKellar says. Studies of similar finds show the flesh has broken down into carbon – and there’s no usable DNA, fans of Jurassic Park will be disappointed to learn.
6-7-17 Study casts doubt on the idea of 'big fluffy T. rex'
Study casts doubt on the idea of 'big fluffy T. rex'
Despite its ancestors having feathers, Tyrannosaurus rex most likely had scaly skin, according to fossil evidence. Researchers say the huge predator had scales much like modern reptiles rather than feathers or fluff. The dinosaur may have ditched its feathers because it no longer needed insulation when it reached gigantic proportions, they propose. But the findings are unlikely to end the long-running debate about the physical appearance of T. rex. We don't need to throw out the image of a big fluffy T. rex quite yet, argued one palaeontologist. Whether T.rex was clad in scales, feathers or both, has long been a mystery, largely due to a lack of fossil evidence. Primitive feathers have been identified in some members of the Tyrannosaur group, leading to speculation that the king of reptiles also sported feathers.
6-6-17 Choosing white or whole-grain bread may depend on what lives in your gut
Choosing white or whole-grain bread may depend on what lives in your gut
People’s blood sugar levels respond differently to breads based on mix of microbes. People in a new study had individual health responses to eating two types of bread. Whether standard white bread or an artisanal sourdough loaf is “healthier” depends on the microbes living in a person’s intestines, a new study suggests. Averaging results from 20 people who ate white and whole wheat sourdough bread for one week each, researchers found no difference in people’s response to the breads, which includes changes in blood sugar levels. But when researchers examined each person individually, a different pattern emerged. Some people’s blood sugar levels climbed more after eating white bread compared with sourdough bread. For others, the opposite was true, the team reports June 6 in Cell Metabolism.
6-6-17 Late nights and lie-ins at the weekend are bad for your health
Late nights and lie-ins at the weekend are bad for your health
Social jetlag, caused by going to sleep and waking up later on weekends, has been linked to a greater risk of heart disease and other signs of poor health. Hitting the snooze button at weekends to make up for early starts during the week may be doing more harm than good. Social jetlag – which occurs when your work and social commitments conflict with your innate desire to sleep at certain times – may increase your risk of heart disease. Social jetlag is similar to the tiredness people feel when travelling from one time zone to another, but has a different cause. “A lot of people will be waking up at 7 am on weekdays, but going to bed later and sleeping in on the weekends to compensate,” says Sierra Forbush at the University of Arizona in Tucson. To investigate the effects of social jetlag, Forbush’s team analysed data from 984 adults living in Pennsylvania, US. To calculate how much social jetlag they experienced each week, Forbush compared the midpoints between when people said they went to bed and woke up on weekdays and weekends. She also adjusted for how long people slept each week, and whether they suffered from insomnia. The team found that for every hour of social jetlag, there was an 11 per cent increase in the likelihood of a person having cardiovascular disease. Social jetlag was also linked to worse mood and increased sleepiness and fatigue.
6-5-17 Drinking small amounts while pregnant may affect the baby’s face
Drinking small amounts while pregnant may affect the baby’s face
Consuming even low levels of alcohol while pregnant seems to affect the shape of a baby’s eyes and nose, although there is no evidence that this is harmful. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol when pregnant seems to have subtle effects on how a baby’s face develops – including the shape of their eyes, nose and lips. This isn’t necessarily harmful, though. “We don’t know if the small changes in the children’s facial shape are connected in any way to differences in their development,” says Jane Halliday of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, who led the research. “We plan to look at this as the children grow.” Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterised by distinctive facial features, such as small eye openings, a short up-turned nose, and a smooth philtrum over the upper lip. Children with this condition are likely to have attention and behavioural disorders, as well as a lower IQ, says Halliday. To find out whether low levels of alcohol consumption, which are more common in pregnancy, might also affect developing fetuses, Halliday’s team studied 1570 women throughout their pregnancies and births. Of these women, 27 per cent said they continued to drink at least some alcohol while pregnant.
6-2-17 Drug that boosts confidence in your own actions may help OCD
Drug that boosts confidence in your own actions may help OCD
Are you sure you locked the front door this morning? Sometimes it can be hard to judge your own behaviour, but a drug that blocks noradrenaline seems to help. Life is full of decisions, and sometimes it’s difficult to know if you’re making the right one. But a drug that blocks the rush of noradrenaline through your body can boost your confidence, and may also lead to new treatments for schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. How much we trust our decisions is governed by the process we use to assess our own behaviour and abilities, known as metacognition. Our judgements shape how we’ll behave in future. For example, if you play Frisbee and you think you played badly, you might be less likely to do it again, says Tobias Hauser at University College London. Having low confidence in our actions can play a part in mental health conditions. “We see many symptoms associated with poor metacognitive judgement in schizophrenia and OCD,” says Hauser. “In OCD, for instance, people may constantly go and check whether they’ve closed a door. They are poor at judging whether they have done something correctly or not.”
6-2-17 When it comes to the flu, the nose has a long memory
When it comes to the flu, the nose has a long memory
In mice, immune cells in nasal tissue remembered — and attacked — past invaders. Following a bout of the flu, the nose makes specialized immune cells that can protect against the illness, a new study in mice suggests. After an influenza infection, the nose recruits immune cells with long memories to keep watch for the virus, research with mice suggests. For the first time, this type of immune cell — known as tissue resident memory T cells — has been found in the nose, researchers report June 2 in Science Immunology. Such nasal resident memory T cells may prevent flu from recurring. Future nasal spray vaccines that boost the number of these T cells in the nose might be an improvement over current flu shots, researchers say.
6-2-17 The strange Cook pine trees that always lean towards the equator
The strange Cook pine trees that always lean towards the equator
The Cook pine has been spread across the world by cultivators, and their efforts have revealed something unusual – the trees always lean towards the equator. Cook pines are towering trees that were once restricted to their native home of New Caledonia, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. Through cultivation, they have taken root across tropical, subtropical and temperate regions around the world. The trees often have slightly tilting trunks. Scientists have now noted a bizarre pattern in their tilt: they lean south in their northern range and north in their southern range. Matt Ritter at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo was writing up a description of the Cook pine (Araucaria columnaris) for a book on the urban trees of California when he realised that the pines always leaned south. So he rang up a colleague in Australia to see if that was the case there. It turned out it was – but this time the pines leaned north. He and his colleagues studied 256 Cook pines scattered across five continents. They collected tree data at 18 locations between latitudes of 7 and 35° north, and 12 and 42° south. The team estimated that the trees tilt by 8.55 degrees on an average – about double the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The trees also slant more the further they are from the equator in both hemispheres. “It’s a shockingly distinct pattern,” says Ritter. One tree in South Australia slants at 40 degrees. (Webmaster's comment: The big question is what are the trees sensing and how do they do it? And also why do they do it?)
6-2-17 Giant sloth remains found in Los Angeles
Giant sloth remains found in Los Angeles
Fossils found by workers digging a tunnel for a new railway line in Los Angeles have been identified as the remains of a giant sloth and a bison. The "amazing discovery" of a sloth's hip bone and a fragment of a bison's radius bone was made about 16ft (5m) below ground in Park Mesa Heights. Scientists say the Harlan's Ground Sloth could have weighed 1,500lb (680kg), and been up to 10ft in length. The sloth and bison species have been extinct for at least 10,000 years. Other ancient large mammals that became extinct follo around the same era - following the last ice age - include massive camels, mastadons and mammoths.
6-2-17 Exercise prevents Alzheimer’s
Exercise prevents Alzheimer’s
A landmark study has confirmed what many neurologists have long believed: Exercise is good for the brain. Researchers analyzed data from more than 150 studies on how physical activity affects the risk for Alzheimer’s. They concluded beyond a doubt that older people who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of developing the progressive brain disorder than those who are inactive. The study also found that people with Alzheimer’s who keep physically active are better able to perform routine daily activities than those who are sedentary, MedicalDaily.com reports. “After evaluating all the research available,” says study author Kathleen Martin Ginis, a professor at the University of British Columbia, “our panel agrees that physical activity is a practical, economical, and accessible intervention for both the prevention and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.” The study’s authors recommend that older people adhere to current federal guidelines: at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and muscle-building strength training at least twice a week.
6-2-17 A drink a day raises breast cancer risk
A drink a day raises breast cancer risk
As little as one small alcoholic drink a day could significantly increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, a major new study has found. Scientists at the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund analyzed data from 119 previous studies, involving 12 million women and 260,000 cases of breast cancer. They found that premenopausal women who drink an average of 10 grams of alcohol each day––equal to a small glass of wine or an 8-ounce beer––have a 5 percent greater risk for breast cancer. For postmenopausal women, the risk jumps to 9 percent. Alcohol can trigger DNA mutations and raise estrogen levels, two factors that have been linked to increased risk for the disease. “[The study] suggests there is no level of alcohol use that is completely safe in terms of breast cancer,” lead author Anne McTiernan tells The Washington Post. “If a woman is drinking, it would be better if she kept it to a lower amount.” In better news, the researchers found that vigorous exercise can help protect against breast cancer. The study showed that the most active premenopausal women had a 17 percent lower risk of developing the disease than the least active; postmenopausal women who did regular exercise had a 10 percent reduced risk. The report also confirmed that women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing the disease after menopause.
6-2-17 Earliest humans from Europe?
Earliest humans from Europe?
Controversial new research has suggested that humans evolved from apes in Southern Europe, not Africa—a claim that, if true, could fundamentally change our understanding of human evolution. The theory is based on a new analysis of two fossils: a jawbone found in Greece and a tooth discovered in Bulgaria. They belong to Graecopithecus freybergi, an ape-like creature that lived between 7.18 million and 7.25 million years ago—about 200,000 years before the earliest known human ancestor. Using advanced new imaging techniques to examine the specimens, researchers found dental-root characteristics that they say are unique to humans and their ancestors, reports TheSmithsonian.com. If correct, that would make the Europe-based “El Graeco” our oldest human ancestor. Their claim has been widely disputed, however. Critics argue that sweeping conclusions about human evolution cannot be made on the basis of two poorly preserved dental fossils and that the preponderance of evidence still suggests the evolutionary split between apes and human ancestors took place in Africa. Study leader David Begun, a paleobiologist at the University of Toronto, says he is “the first to admit” that his evidence “is less than ideal” and that more fossils are needed.
6-2-17 Faces recreated from monkey brain signals
Faces recreated from monkey brain signals
Scientists in the US have accurately reconstructed images of human faces by monitoring the responses of monkey brain cells. The brains of primates can resolve different faces with remarkable speed and reliability, but the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. The researchers showed pictures of human faces to macaques and then recorded patterns of brain activity. The work could inspire new facial recognition algorithms, they report. In earlier investigations, Prof Doris Tsao from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and colleagues had used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans and other primates to work out which areas of the brain were responsible for identifying faces. Six areas were found to be involved, all of which are located in part of the brain known as the inferior temporal (IT) cortex. The researchers described these six areas as "face patches".
6-1-17 Brains encode faces piece by piece
Brains encode faces piece by piece
Monkey nerve cells respond to different facial features, combine data for full picture. Scientists showed monkeys pictures of faces while measuring the activity of a monkey’s brain cells. By adding together the information given by 205 nerve cells, researchers were able to reconstruct the faces the monkey had been shown. A monkey’s brain builds a picture of a human face somewhat like a Mr. Potato Head — piecing it together bit by bit. The code that a monkey’s brain uses to represent faces relies not on groups of nerve cells tuned to specific faces — as has been previously proposed — but on a population of about 200 cells that code for different sets of facial characteristics. Added together, the information contributed by each nerve cell lets the brain efficiently capture any face, researchers report June 1 in Cell. “It’s a turning point in neuroscience — a major breakthrough,” says Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester in England who wasn’t part of the work. “It’s a very simple mechanism to explain something as complex as recognizing faces.”
6-1-17 Unhealthy vagina microbiome can make HIV drugs less effective
Unhealthy vagina microbiome can make HIV drugs less effective
A bacterial strain associated with a common vaginal infection can break down tenofovir, a powerful preventative HIV drug used in protective gels and PrEP. The balance of bacterial strains living in the vagina can influence how effective a medicated gel is at protecting against HIV. The finding may explain why women need to take PrEP treatments more regularly than men to be protected against contracting the virus. The drug tenofovir is a mainstay of HIV treatment and prevention. When taken orally, it protects well against HIV infection, but researchers have wondered why it doesn’t work as well when applied as a microbicidal gel in the vagina. Some have suggested this is because the women taking part in tests of the gel didn’t use it reliably, but now it looks like vaginal microbes might bear part of the blame. The vaginas of healthy women are known to be dominated by Lactobacillus bacteria. Having a more diverse collection of bacteria has been linked to an increased likelihood of urinary tract infections, while the presence of particular species, such as Gardnerella vaginalis, is linked to bacterial vaginosis, a poorly understood condition that causes abnormal discharge and odour. Now Nichole Klatt at the University of Washington, Seattle, and her colleagues have found that the types of microorganisms living in the vagina are linked to how effective tenofovir gel is at protecting against HIV infection.
6-1-17 When preventing HIV, bacteria in the vagina matter
When preventing HIV, bacteria in the vagina matter
Some microbes appear to break down drug in prophylactic gel, making it less effective. Women use an applicator to self-administer a vaginal gel containing the HIV-prevention drug tenofovir. Vaginal bacteria affect how well the drug works, a new study suggests. Bacteria in the vagina affect whether a drug stops an HIV infection or is itself stopped cold. A vaginal gel containing tenofovir, an antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV infection, was three times as effective at preventing HIV in women who had healthy vaginal bacterial communities as it was in women with a less beneficial mix. The finding may help explain why the effectiveness of these gels has varied in trials, researchers report in the June 2 Science. “The vaginal microbiota is yet another variable that we have to take into account when we are thinking about why one intervention does or doesn’t work,” says clinical scientist Khalil Ghanem of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who coauthored a commentary accompanying the study.
6-1-17 Extinct species of Galapagos giant tortoise may be resurrected
Extinct species of Galapagos giant tortoise may be resurrected
The Floreana Island giant tortoise was wiped out in the 19th century, but close relatives found on other islands might be key to bringing it back. Conservationists believe they can bring back a species of giant tortoise unique to Floreana Island in the Galapagos and considered extinct since the mid-19th century. Galapagos giant tortoises are sometimes divided into 15 species, 11 of which survive today. The tortoise populations on all the islands were decimated after humans arrived in the archipelago and began loading them onto ships for their meat. They also brought animals such as rats, which can prey on young tortoises, and goats, which destroy their habitat. Tortoises were eliminated from Floreana Island shortly after Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835. Another species, the Pinta Island tortoise, lost its last remaining member, named Lonesome George, in 2012. But these species may not be gone forever. Both Floreana and Pinta tortoises have a saddle-shaped shell, allowing them to raise their necks to reach higher vegetation. In 2008, researchers discovered a few similar saddle-shelled tortoises living around Wolf volcano on Isabela Island, differing from the dome-shaped shell of most of the island’s tortoises. DNA collected from the saddle-shelled animals suggested they were descended from Floreana and Pinta Island tortoises.
6-1-17 Photos of human faces reassembled from monkeys’ brain signals
Photos of human faces reassembled from monkeys’ brain signals
Cracking the code on how the brain is able to compute so many different kinds of faces has made it possible to recreate the faces shown to monkeys. Precision images of real faces have been recreated simply by monitoring the activity of certain cells in the brains of macaque monkeys as they looked at photographs of people. The first step was to determine exactly how brain cells compute recognisable images in the higher visual cortex – the brain area that interprets signals from the eye. The study is the first to provide a full and simple explanation of how the brains of macaques – and by implication, humans – generate composite images of any face they see. “We’ve cracked the brain’s code for facial identity,” says Doris Tsao at the California Institute of Technology. Tsao and her colleague, Steven Le Chang, have discovered that individual cells can generate an infinite range of facial images in the brain by pooling their activity, much in the same way that the combined activity of red, blue or green detectors in the eye allow the brain to “see” many more colours. Earlier work has identified patches of these specialised face cells, which seem only to be active when a person is shown an image of a face. In their study, Tsao and Le Chang tracked the activity of cells in monkey brains. Working together, the combined signals from these cells could encode 50 different aspects of a face – for example, face shape, eye distance, skin texture, and so on.
6-1-17 Babies categorize colors the same way adults do
Babies categorize colors the same way adults do
Babies divvy up colors into the same five categories — red, yellow, green, blue and purple — as adults do, a new study finds. Lots of newborn decorations come in black and white, so that young babies can better see the shapes. But just because it’s easier for babies to see bold blacks and whites doesn’t mean they can’t see color. Very few studies of color vision in newborns exist, says Anna Franklin, a color researcher at the University of Sussex in England. “But those that have been conducted suggest that newborns can see some color, even if their color vision is limited,” she says. Newborns may not be great at distinguishing maroon from scarlet, but they can certainly see a vivid red. But as babies get a little older, they get remarkably adept at discerning the world’s palette, new research shows. Babies ages 4 months to 6 months old are able to sort colors into five categories, researchers report in the May 23 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
6-1-17 50 years ago, antibiotic resistance alarms went unheeded
50 years ago, antibiotic resistance alarms went unheeded
With the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics came man’s confidence in his ability to control infectious diseases. But now, that confidence is being shaken by once defenseless germs that have learned to outwit man and thrive in the face of his wonder drugs.… One way to cut down on drug resistance transfer is to stop prescribing antibiotics almost indiscriminately, but that is not an altogether workable solution. — Science News, June 10, 1967.In 1945, Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, warned that bacteria could become resistant to the wondrous antibiotic. Yet our love affair with antibiotics is still going strong — with consequences. In 2014, U.S. doctors prescribed close to 266 million outpatient courses of antibiotics — at least 30 percent of which were probably unnecessary. In the United States, more than 2 million illnesses per year and at least 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant infections. In 2016, E. coli in the United States showed new resistance to the last-resort antibiotic, colistin (SN Online: 5/27/16).
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