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106 Evolution News Articles
for October 2021
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Nature cares only that you reproduce and raise the kids.
After you've done that, get out of the way.

10-31-21 The FDA's review of the Moderna vaccine for teens could take until January 2022
The Food and Drug Administration needs more time to complete its assessment of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for use for 12- to 17-year-olds, the drugmaker said Sunday. The review could take until January 2022 to complete. Moderna said in May that its vaccine was 100 percent effective in a study of 12- to 17-year-olds. The FDA is now specifically reviewing the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Moderna will wait to file a request for emergency authorization for a smaller dose of its vaccine for children ages 6 to 11 until the FDA completes the review for the teenage group. The FDA expanded Pfizer's COVID-19 emergency use to include adolescents ages 12 through 15 back in May. On Friday, the FDA further approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization for children ages 5 to 11.

10-30-21 Ancient wooden Mayan canoe unearthed almost intact in Mexico
Archaeologists have discovered a wooden Mayan canoe in southern Mexico, believed to be over 1,000 years old. Measuring over 5ft (1.6m), it was found almost completely intact, submerged in a freshwater pool near the ruined Mayan city of Chichen Itza. Mexico's antiquities institute (Inah) says it may have been used to extract water or deposit ritual offers. The rare find came during construction work on a new tourist railway known as the Maya Train. In a statement, the Inah said archaeologists had also discovered ceramics, a ritual knife and painted murals of hands on a rockface in the pool, known as a cenote. Experts from Paris's Sorbonne University have been helping with pin-pointing the canoe's exact age and type, the statement said. A 3D model of it would also be made to allow replicas to be made, and to facilitate further study, it added. The Mayan civilisation flourished before Spain conquered the region. In their time, the Mayans ruled large stretches of territory in what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. The boat has been tentatively dated between 830-950 AD, towards the end of the Mayan civilisation's golden age. Around this period, the Mayan civilisation suffered a major political collapse, marked by the abandonment of cities dotted around modern-day Central America - leaving ruins of towering pyramids and other stone buildings. No single theory for this collapse has been widely accepted, but it's believed a combination of internal warfare, drought and overpopulation may have been contributing factors. The so-called Maya Train is a multi-billion-dollar project, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's left-wing government, which will run through five southern Mexican states. Advocates have said the rail network will help to alleviate poverty in the region. But critics argue that it risks damaging local ecosystems and undiscovered sites of historic importance.

10-29-21 Skin patch coated in covid-19 vaccine may work better than injections
Covid-19 vaccines in use today have to be stored at cold temperatures, but a patch covered in tiny plastic spikes coated in a vaccine could provide an alternative. A skin patch for administering covid-19 vaccines gives greater immune protection than traditional injections, according to a study in mice. The patch can be stored at room temperature and be self-administered, making it suitable for use in places that lack cold storage facilities and medical staff. Although covid-19 vaccines are now widely available in many countries, they have to be transported and stored at cold temperatures. “We wanted to come up with an alternative that would be stable long enough to go that last mile, especially in resource-limited settings,” says David Muller at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Muller and his colleagues have spent years developing a skin patch that can deliver influenza, polio, dengue and other vaccines without requiring needles or cold storage. They wondered if the same technology could be used for covid-19 vaccines. The centimetre-wide skin patch is dotted with 5000 tiny plastic spikes, each a quarter of a millimetre long and coated with dried vaccine that is more stable than liquid forms. The patch is applied with an applicator that painlessly presses the vaccine into the upper layer of the skin. Vaccines delivered this way tend to elicit stronger immune responses because the skin is full of immune cells, says Muller. For example, when the flu vaccine is administered via this skin patch, a sixth of the normal dose can be used because it produces a stronger response. The researchers tested the skin patch with a covid-19 vaccine candidate called HexaPro, developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, which is still being tested in clinical trials but is more heat stable and cheaper to make than existing vaccines.

10-29-21 Scientists should report results with intellectual humility. Here’s how
A humble mind-set would generate more honest and reproducible research, social scientists say. In the children’s chapter book series Zoey and Sassafras, which my own two kids adore, young Zoey has to work out how to save magical creatures with mysterious injuries and ailments. Zoey’s scientist mother teaches her the basics of running an experiment: Observe, hypothesize, test and conclude. Throughout the series, Zoey learns that failed experiments, while disappointing, are simply part of the scientific process. Schoolteachers similarly encourage most budding scientists to be open to making mistakes and refining ideas — to be like Zoey. In theory, then, this humble thinking should remain foundational as students become established scientists. Yet, in an October 28 commentary in Nature Human Behaviour, psychologists Rink Hoekstra and Simine Vazire argue that the practice of science, particularly the process of publishing findings in scientific journals, is far from this “tell it as it is” style. It’s more arrogant. “I think implicitly we are taught to brag about our results,” says Hoekstra, of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.Hoekstra and Vazire, of the University of Melbourne in Australia, propose scientists should be willing to acknowledge that they might be wrong, what psychologists call “intellectual humility.” This humble approach extends beyond transparency, the authors write. “Owning our limitations … entails a commitment to foregrounding them, taking them seriously, and accepting their consequences.” Psychologists have shown that intellectual humility helps people learn for the sake of learning, has the potential to reduce political polarization and encourages people to interrogate news stories for misinformation.

10-29-21 Palestinians unveil huge mosaic in West Bank desert castle
Palestinian authorities have unveiled one of the largest floor mosaics in the world, in the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank. The mosaic at Hisham's Palace took five years and some $12 million (£8 million) to restore. The mosaic dates back more than 1,000 years, but Hisham's Palace was only rediscovered in the 19th Century. The art remained neglected until a Japan-funded restoration effort was launched in 2016. The size of the mosaic panels is approximately 835 square metres, and it contains more than 5 million mosaic pieces and small mosaic stones. Palestinian officials hope the mosaic floor will become a major tourist attraction. Hisham's Palace is an Islamic desert castle from the Ummayad Dynasty, which lasted from 660 to 750 AD.

10-28-21 Two people suppressed HIV for years while pausing medication
A growing number of cases show that some people with HIV can avoid becoming ill even while pausing their medication, as virus levels in their blood remain low. Two people with HIV who were able to stop taking medication for several years without becoming ill from the virus offer clues for future strategies to suppress the infection. But both eventually had to restart taking medication, showing the current limitations of such approaches, says Tae-Wook Chun of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland. People with HIV can avoid becoming ill by taking lifelong medicines that stop the virus from multiplying, but copies of the virus remain in their immune memory cells throughout the body. This means that for most, if they stop medication, the virus starts multiplying again and levels in the blood rebound, requiring a return to drug therapy. A few individuals who pause their HIV medication don’t see their blood virus levels quickly rebound, but it is unclear why. They are sometimes called “post-treatment controllers”. The phenomenon seems to happen more often in people who begin anti-HIV drug treatment in the first few weeks after infection, perhaps because the virus doesn’t have a chance to become established in so many of their immune cells. The latest study looks at two people who both began early anti-HIV treatment and later stopped their medication as part of an NIH trial of a therapeutic vaccine to treat HIV infections, although they received a placebo version of the vaccine. When the virus didn’t restart multiplying at the end of the six-month trial, the men chose to stay off their medication and continue having frequent blood tests, even though they had been told they had the placebo. The pair were able to continue without anti-HIV medication for 3.5 and four years, but different immune mechanisms seemed to be responsible in each case.

10-28-21 Ancient Roman statues discovered during HS2 high-speed railway dig
Two complete statues of a man and a woman, along with other Roman objects, were uncovered by archaeologists working on the planned route of the UK's HS2 high-speed railway. Archaeologists digging on the planned route of the UK’s HS2 high-speed railway have uncovered an “astounding” set of Roman statues. The discovery was made at the site where St. Mary’s, a medieval church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, once stood. Two complete statues of what appear to be a man and a woman were found, plus the head of a child. A hexagonal glass Roman jug was also uncovered with large pieces still intact, despite having been in the ground for what is thought to be more than 1000 years. A vessel on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the only known comparable item. Rachel Wood, lead archaeologist for HS2 contractor Fusion JV, told the Press Association news agency: “They’re hugely significant because they’re really rare finds in the UK. To find one stone head or one set of shoulders would be really astonishing, but we have two complete heads and shoulders as well as a third head as well.” “They’re even more significant to us archaeologically because they’ve actually helped change our understanding of the site here before the medieval church was built,” she said. The discoveries at old St Mary’s Church have been sent to a laboratory for specialist cleaning and analysis. “They are so significant and so remarkable that we would certainly hope that they will end up on display for the local community to see,” said Wood. Experts believe the location was used as a Roman mausoleum before the Norman church was built. Around 3000 bodies have been removed from the church and will be reburied at a new site.

10-28-21 New human species has been named Homo bodoensis - but it may not stick
Researchers who reanalysed ancient fossils say they come from a new group of hominins living in Africa around 600,000 years ago, and so deserve a new species name. A new species of extinct human has been named: Homo bodoensis. The species hasn’t been identified based on new fossils, but on re-examination of old ones. Why do researchers think there is another species of human? Here’s what you need to know. Homo bodoensis is the proposed name for fossils of a group of hominins that lived in Africa during a period commonly known as the Middle Pleistocene, but now technically called the Chibanian, between 770,000 and 126,000 years ago. The species has been described by Mirjana Roksandic at the University of Winnipeg in Canada and her colleagues. It is named for the Bodo cranium, which was found in 1976 at Bodo D’ar in the Awash river valley of Ethiopia. The cranium is about 600,000 years old. The researchers argue that H. bodoensis lived widely throughout Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. They suggest that other specimens of this species include Kabwe 1 from Zambia, the Ndutu and Ngaloba skulls from Tanzania and the Saldanha cranium from Elandsfontein in South Africa. H. bodoensis may also have wandered into the eastern Mediterranean, they say. They were given various species designations, which were often used in contradictory ways. For example, depending on which studies you read, the Bodo cranium is variously called Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis. Both species are hard to pin down. H. heidelbergensis is named for a 609,000-year-old jawbone found in Mauer, Germany. A number of similar bones are known from Europe and Africa during the Middle Pleistocene. But researchers differ on whether they are all H. heidelbergensis. Meanwhile, H. rhodesiensis was first named to describe the Kabwe 1 skull. This bone was found in 1921 in what is now Zambia, but was then called Northern Rhodesia. At the time the area was controlled by the British Empire. The name Rhodesia originates with Cecil Rhodes, a British mining magnate and politician. Partly because of this association, Roksandic says, the name is rarely used.

10-28-21 The antidepressant fluvoxamine can keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital
A 10-day course may work as an easy at-home treatment for early COVID-19, a clinical trial finds. An inexpensive, easy-to-take pill could be the next weapon in the arsenal against COVID-19. Taking the antidepressant fluvoxamine within days of showing symptoms of an infection can dramatically cut the risk of hospitalization and death, suggests the largest trial to date of this FDA-approved generic drug as a COVID-19 treatment. In newly infected COVID-19 patients at high risk of complications, a 10-day course of the antidepressant fluvoxamine cut hospitalizations by two-thirds and reduced deaths by 91 percent in patients who tolerated the medicine, researchers report October 27 in the Lancet Global Health. Fluvoxamine is commonly prescribed for obsessive-compulsive disorder and acts by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin between nerve cells. Aside from those effects, the drug has other biological properties that could quell inflammation triggered by COVID-19, says child psychiatrist Angela Reiersen of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She stumbled onto the idea to test fluvoxamine as a COVID-19 treatment while scouring papers during her own bout of illness early in the pandemic. “This is an existing medicine with two to three decades of clinical use — something millions of people have taken,” says David Boulware, an infectious disease physician and researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. “It’s available at every pharmacy in the U.S., and [a 10-day course] costs $10.” By comparison, a five-day course of Merck’s antiviral molnupiravir — another oral drug that can protect people from serious COVID-19 — carries a $700 price tag (SN: 10/1/21).Boulware was not involved in the latest trial but helped analyze results from a smaller study showing fluvoxamine’s promise as an early COVID-19 treatment. That study tested real-world use of the antidepressant in workers who got infected during a COVID-19 outbreak at a California horse racing track last November (SN: 2/1/21).

10-28-21 Epidemics have happened before and they’ll happen again. What will we remember?
A look back at past epidemics reveals progress in research and medicine as well as reminders of what still needs changing. he emergency hospital, a partially demolished building hastily enclosed with wooden partitions, was about to open. It was the fall of 1918 in Philadelphia, and influenza was spreading fast. With many of the city’s doctors and nurses serving in World War I, 23-year-old Isaac Starr and his third-year classmates at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine needed to help tend the sick. They’d had just one lecture on influenza. Their first job was to assemble the hospital beds, about 25 to a floor. Starr’s shift was 4 p.m. to midnight. The beds soon filled with patients who had fevers, he recalled in a 1976 essay for Annals of Internal Medicine. Many who developed influenza recovered. But Starr witnessed some patients become starved for air, their skin turning blue. Soon, they were “struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth,” he wrote. “It was a dreadful business.” There were no effective treatments. Patients, desperate for breath, became delirious and incontinent and would die within days. “When I returned to duty at 4 p.m., I found few whom I had seen before,” Starr wrote. “This happened night after night.” In October, around the pinnacle of the pandemic, roughly 11,000 Philadelphians perished. Some who died in the makeshift hospital stuck with Starr. There was Mike the piano mover, who in a frenzy left his bed and was about to leap from a window before medical staff grabbed him. Mike died shortly after. There was the young woman, “flushed with fever,” whose large family kept vigil at her bedside, hoping for a recovery that never came. An estimated 50 million people worldwide died of influenza during the 1918 pandemic. The century since has seen many vaccines and treatments become available to combat infectious diseases. But beyond those medical feats, the story of epidemics remains a story about people: people who become sick, people who die, people whose lives are upended, people who care for others. And ultimately, people who remember what happened and people who forget.

10-28-21 DNA from mysterious Asian mummies reveals their surprising ancestry
Researchers have debated where the Bronze Age group originated from. Mystery mummies from Central Asia have a surprising ancestry. These people, who displayed facial characteristics suggesting a European heritage, belonged to a local population with ancient Asian roots, a new study finds. Until now, researchers had pegged the mummified Bronze Age bunch as newcomers and debated about where in West Asia they originally came from. Desert heat naturally mummified hundreds of bodies buried in western China’s Tarim Basin from roughly 4,000 to 1,800 years ago. Preserved remains of these people have been excavated since the 1990s (SN: 2/25/95). Those interred around 4,000 years ago belonged to the Xiaohe culture, a population that mixed animal herding with plant cultivation. Their boat-shaped coffins were unlike any others in the region. And preserved cheese, wheat, millet and clothes made from western Eurasian wool found in Xiaohe graves pointed to distant contacts or origins. Archaeogeneticist Yinqiu Cui of Jilin University in Changchun, China, and an international team analyzed DNA from 13 Tarim Basin mummies from roughly 4,100 to 3,700 years ago and five other human mummies from the nearby Dzungarian Basin from around 5,000 to 4,800 years ago. Tarim people displayed Asian ancestry mainly traceable to hunter-gatherers who inhabited much of northern Eurasia more than 9,000 years ago. That finding suggests that the mummies belonged to a population that did not mate with outsiders for many millennia, the researchers report October 27 in Nature. No DNA links were found to western Eurasian herders from the Afanasievo culture (SN: 11/15/17), who some researchers have regarded as precursors of Xiaohe people. A predominantly Afanasievo ancestry did appear in the Dzungarian individuals. Milk proteins found in dental tartar from seven Tarim mummies indicated that those people regularly consumed dairy products, a practice possibly learned from Afanasievo descendants in the Dzungarian Basin, the researchers say.

10-28-21 Ancient human visitors complicate the Falkland Islands wolf’s origin story
Indigenous people arrived on the islands centuries before Europeans. The enigmatic, now-extinct Falkland Islands wolf had human visitors on the remote archipelago up to 1,070 years ago. The find suggests that Indigenous people could have originally brought the foxlike creatures, also known as the warrah, to the islands. Scientists have debated how the islands’ only land mammal journeyed to the region: by a long-ago land bridge or with people. But little evidence of a human presence before Europeans arrived in 1690 had been found. Now, traces of ancient fires and hunting show that Indigenous people arrived on the Falkland Islands centuries prior to Europeans, researchers report October 27 in Science Advances. The Yaghan people — historically fire-wielding seafarers who kept foxes as companions — may have been the visitors. Abrupt spikes in charcoal levels in sediments offer “telltale signs of human arrival” from 1,070 to 620 years ago on New Island, says Kit Hamley, a paleoecologist and archaeologist at the University of Maine in Orono. Those spikes mirror later traces of Europeans’ fires around 250 years ago. And massive piles of sea lion and penguin bones imply hunting by humans from 745 to 600 years ago, Hamley says. Before being hunted to extinction by Europeans in 1875, the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis) also consumed marine predators such as sea lions and penguins, nitrogen levels in two warrah bones and one tooth show. The researchers newly dated that tooth and found it to be from 3,860 years ago. That vastly predates the fire-and-bone-pile evidence, leaving a gap “between when the warrah arrives, and when we can definitively say people were there,” Hamley says. But Indigenous people’s presence up to 1,070 years ago raises new questions about whether the warrah hitchhiked there with earlier human visitors, Hamley says. Next, Hamley and colleagues plan to partner with the few remaining Yaghan communities in Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to piece together “parts of the story that have been lost or taken away.”

10-28-21 DNA of Native American leader Sitting Bull matched to living relative
Tatanka Iyotake, popularly known as Sitting Bull, is famed as a 19th century leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux people – and DNA strengthens the claim that he has living descendants. A study that blends history with contemporary DNA technology has further strengthened the claim of a familial relationship between a living Native American and a historical figure: Tatanka Iyotake, popularly known as Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull was a leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux people. In 1876, he was victorious against General Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Today, Ernie LaPointe, a Native American author and president of the Sitting Bull Family Foundation, is widely accepted as the great-grandson of Sitting Bull. Now, LaPointe has had his claim strengthened by genetics. LaPointe and his three sisters have previously used historical records, including birth and death certificates, to make a strong case of a familial relationship with Sitting Bull. In 2007, a lock of Sitting Bull’s hair that had been preserved at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC was repatriated to LaPointe and his sisters – and a small sample was sent to a team of geneticists led by Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen to allow for DNA analysis. The outcome of the analysis was important for LaPointe, who is named as a co-author on the new study. In order to secure the right to determine the fate of the final resting place of Sitting Bull, he needed to provide irrefutable evidence that Sitting Bull was indeed his forbear. Genetic evidence would serve this purpose. By comparing DNA from Sitting Bull’s hair with DNA from LaPointe’s saliva, the new study does indeed irrefutably establish that LaPointe is the great-grandson of the legendary leader, says Willerslev.

10-27-21 Australia has had zero measles in 2021 due to covid-19 border closure
Many countries have seen sharp falls in the number of measles cases as a result of covid-19 controls, but the pandemic has also interrupted immunisation programmes. Not a single case of measles has been recorded in Australia this year, which is a side benefit of the country shutting its borders to keep out the coronavirus. Measles rates have also plummeted in most other nations, but experts are worried that interrupted immunisation programmes during the crisis could lead to a massive resurgence. Before the covid-19 pandemic, measles infections in Australia had been climbing in line with global trends. In 2019, the country recorded 284 cases – the most in five years. The majority were found in people who caught the virus overseas and brought it home. Then, in March 2020, Australia introduced tight border controls to try to hold covid-19 at bay. Citizens have since been unable to travel overseas, non-Australians have been barred from entrance and all returning Australians have had to quarantine upon arrival. During this time, there has been a sharp drop in measles infections in Australia, with just 25 cases recorded in 2020 and not a single case so far in 2021. The Australian government announced on 27 October that fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to leave the country from 1 November. While the border has been closed, any existing measles virus in Australia has “burnt itself out” thanks to high vaccination coverage and no more has been able to come in, says David Durrheim at the University of Newcastle in Australia. More than 94 per cent of Australian children are immunised against the disease. Measles rates also seem to have waned in most other countries, although this is partly due to underreporting by health systems that are busy dealing with covid-19, says Kim Mulholland, a member of the World Health Organization’s working group on measles and rubella vaccines who is based in Melbourne.

10-27-21 Genetically engineered bacteria could heal us from inside our cells
Billions of years ago, bacteria began living inside other cells and carrying out essential functions. Genetic engineering could create new types of these ‘endosymbionts’. Bacteria have been genetically engineered to enter and live inside mouse immune cells, where they released proteins that altered the behaviour of those cells. The work is a first step towards creating “artificial endosymbionts” that could live inside some human body cells and do everything from guiding the regeneration of damaged tissues to treating cancer. “That’s the vision in the long run,” says Christopher Contag at Michigan State University. Several other groups are also developing artificial endosymbionts, which they say could allow us to make crops and farm animals more productive, and could treat age-related conditions. The idea of creating artificial endosymbionts used to be regarded as fanciful, says Bogumil Karas at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, but due to the huge advances in our ability to engineer organisms in recent years, it is starting to be seen as feasible. “This is going to be one of the biggest things in the very near future,” he says. “I’ve seen huge interest in the last five years or so.” Most organisms depend on the microbes living on or in them – the microbiome – but sometimes the relationship is even more intimate. Some bacteria live inside the cells of plants or animals in a mutually beneficial relationship called endosymbiosis. Endosymbionts can give organisms abilities vital for their survival. The energy-producing structures in all animal and plant cells evolved from endosymbiotic bacteria, as did the photosynthetic structures in all plant cells. To create a new endosymbiont from scratch, Contag’s team started with a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis, found in our guts among other places. “It’s a normal microbiome bacterium,” says team member Cody Madsen, also at Michigan State University.

10-27-21 Are vegan meat alternatives putting our health on the line?
Veganism is typically equated with healthy eating, but today’s factory-produced fake bacon, sausages and burgers could be tarnishing the halo of a plant-based diet. New Scientist investigates. DONALD Watson was born in Yorkshire and spent much of his youth on his uncle’s farm. But rather than making him feel at ease with breeding animals for food, the realisation that these “friendly creatures” went for slaughter horrified him. He became a vegetarian in 1924, aged 14. Two decades later, with his wife and four friends, he coined the word vegan from the first and last parts of the word vegetarian, and founded the UK Vegan Society. Watson’s diet was filled mostly with nuts, apples, dried fruit, vegetables and, when wartime rations allowed it, lentils. Fast-forward to today, and Watson would have been astonished at the wealth of vegan-friendly offerings. Browse the aisles of supermarkets in the UK, US, Australia and beyond and you will find a growing amount of space dedicated to vegan fish and meat alternatives. But while Watson’s diet turned out to be a healthy one, a different picture is emerging for some of today’s vegans. Take a look at the ingredients in the ever-increasing variety of products and they can seem more like junk, packed full of salt and ingredients such as “soya protein concentrate” that you wouldn’t find in a chunk of meat. While today’s factory-produced foods make it easy to switch to a vegan diet without the need to make drastic changes to eating patterns, these alternatives might be worse for our health than the meat versions they are replacing. Finding out is increasingly important, due to the growing number of people avoiding meat and dairy in their diet. So what do we – and don’t we – know? When Watson applied for vegan rations during the second world war (a request that was ultimately denied), there were just 35 members of the Vegan Society. This year, more than half a million people signed up to take a month off from eating animal products in the UK for “Veganuary“, and nearly 3 per cent of people in the US avoid eating such products.

10-26-21 Covid vaccines: Paediatricians on frontlines of child jab plan
Paediatric doctors could soon find themselves on the front lines of a US government plan to get some 28 million schoowsp_rte_replace_markerl-aged children in line for their coronavirus jabs. Advisory boards to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet in the coming days to discuss authorising the Pfizer vaccine for children between five and 11 years old. Data from the company's clinical trials found that a paediatric dose of the vaccine - one third of that given to adults and adolescents - was safe and 90% effective. If health officials approve the jab, 15 million doses will go out to paediatric offices, children's hospitals and pharmacies around the country. The Pfizer vaccine is already approved for American adults and adolescents, but it has not yet been approved for most school-aged children. Among those between five and 11 years old, there have been about 1.8 million cases confirmed in the US, according to the CDC. Fewer than two hundred have died, and most of those had underlying medical conditions. Some medical experts say that, given the persistence of the Delta variant and the return to in-person schooling, vaccinating children is a crucial next step in fighting the pandemic. "Parents need to understand the urgency of vaccination because the pandemic is not over," said Dr James Versalovic, pathologist in chief at Texas Children's Hospital (TCH). Dr Versalovic estimates at least 1,500 children have been diagnosed since the beginning of the pandemic with the virus at TCH, the largest children's hospital in the US. "No age group has been spared," he said. On Tuesday, an independent advisory committee to the FDA will vote on whether to recommend an emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer jab for children between five and 11 years old. The CDC will follow suit on 2 November.

10-26-21 Lidar reveals a possible blueprint for many Olmec and Maya ceremonial sites
Similar ceremonial layouts connected ancient societies across Mexico’s Gulf Coast. An unexpected architectural tradition linked many Olmec and Maya societies of Mesoamerica, an ancient cultural area that ran from central Mexico to Central America. Starting as early as around 3,400 years ago and for roughly the next two millennia, those communities constructed ceremonial centers based on a common blueprint. That plan was grounded in ideas about space, the calendar and possibly beliefs about the universe, researchers report October 25 in Nature Human Behavior. An airborne remote-sensing technique called light detection and ranging, or lidar, revealed 478 rectangular and square ceremonial centers across Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast, over an area roughly the size of Ireland. Lidar maps detected remnants of ceremonial centers dotting the landscape in an Olmec homeland area and stretching westward around 500 kilometers to the Maya lowlands, say archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues. Olmec society dates from around 3,500 to 2,400 years ago. Its relation to later Maya culture is unclear, although Maya and Olmec people may have influenced each other’s cultures between 3,000 and 2,800 years ago, Inomata suspects. “The discovery of standardized [ceremonial] complexes across this broad area, many of them having rectangular shapes, forces us to rethink what was happening during this period,” Inomata says. A continuous 2,000-year tradition of ceremonial complex construction now appears to have characterized Mesoamerican settlements of various sizes and political arrangements. New lidar data from so many Mesoamerican sites “reveals an astonishing reality — the sheer vastness of what we didn’t know about the emergence of urbanism in this part of the world,” says archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli of Tulane University in New Orleans, who was not part of Inomata’s team.

10-25-21 Hundreds of ancient ceremonial sites found in southern Mexico
Researchers have uncovered 478 ceremonial sites that were probably built by the Olmec and the Maya thousands of years ago. Hundreds of ancient Mesoamerican ceremonial sites built over a period of about 600 years have been uncovered. This comes after the discovery of the first such site – Aguada Fénix – was announced in 2020 Takeshi Inomata at the University of Arizona and his colleagues used a form of remote sensing called lidar, which uses airborne lasers to form a 3D picture of the surface of the ground. They used this to discover 478 sites in an area covering 84,516 square kilometres in southern Mexico, some of which was covered by dense jungle. The sites were made up of rectangular complexes, which the Maya and Olmec probably used for ceremonial gatherings. “People just come and go… sort of like a pilgrimage centre,” says Inomata. They consisted of a central open plaza, where people might have gathered, with a series of low earthen mounds along the edges where there might have been built structures. And they were probably constructed between 1050 and 400 BC by two ancient civilisations – the Olmec, which was the earliest known civilisation in the region, and the Maya, which may have learned from the Olmec and whose culture collapsed around AD 800. “Nobody knew about those rectangular ceremonial sites until we found Aguada Fénix, so all these new findings are a revelation about this early period,” says Inomata. “That really made us rethink about the origin of Mesoamerican civilisation. Many of those complexes were built by people without too much hierarchical organisation.” The sites were all relatively flat with a few small pyramids compared with later constructions in the region such as Chichen-Itza that typically contain large pyramids. “We don’t know exactly what they might have looked like in life, but one could argue that they were small cities,” says Elizabeth Graham at University College London, who wasn’t involved with the study. “When I first started work in the 70s it was still a time where everyone thought cities developed in the Classic period around 200 AD. Now, steadily the period in which I guess you could say urbanism developed has been pushed back and pushed back.”

10-25-21 Male fertility could be restored by re-implanting frozen testes tissue
A clinic in Belgium has been given the go-ahead to re-implant frozen testicular tissue to obtain sperm for fertility treatments. The hope is that the procedure will allow those whose fertility was destroyed by cancer treatments before they reached puberty to have children. “Our protocol has been approved by the ethical committee, and now we are waiting for the first case,” says Ellen Goossens at the Free University in Brussels (VUB). “It can be expected in the near future.” Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can sometimes make people infertile. In those old enough to produce sperm, samples can simply be frozen for later use for IVF. For prepubescent children who don’t produce sperm yet, this isn’t an option, but their testes do contain spermatogonial stem cells, the cells that later produce sperm. These can be preserved by removing small pieces of the testes and freezing them. After animal studies suggested that it might be possible to derive mature sperm from spermatogonial stem cells, Goossens’s group began offering so-called testicular tissue banking in 2002. A growing number of centres worldwide are following suit, and a survey in 2019 found that testes tissue had been collected from more than 1000 individuals. A breakthrough in the animal studies came recently, says Rod Mitchell at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the work. A team in the US froze testicular tissue from rhesus macaques and later re-implanted it in the scrotum or under the skin of the back. All the grafts began producing testosterone and mature sperm, which were extracted and used to fertilise eggs. In 2019, the team reported that the process resulted in the birth of a healthy macaque baby. “This is proof of principle in the primate that the whole process from obtaining tissue, storing tissue, generating sperm and being able to generate offspring with those sperm is feasible,” says Mitchell.

10-25-21 Glass flask catalysed famous Miller-Urey origin-of-life experiment
A famous origin-of-life experiment from the 1950s may have more accurately mimicked nature than we initially thought. The influential Miller-Urey experiment showed that with just water, ammonia, hydrogen and methane – and electric sparks to mimic lightning – you could form several of the protein precursors necessary for life on Earth. Stanley Miller and Harold Urey’s aim was to recreate the chemical conditions of early Earth. But what the researchers had never explicitly considered was whether the nature of the container used in the experiment had any effect on the outcome. “We don’t know why no one looked at this before,” says Ernesto Di Mauro at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology in Rome, Italy. “Sometimes it’s the simplest things that people miss.” Di Mauro and his team repeated the experiment with the same type of borosilicate glass container used in the original experiment and also reran the study with a container made from Teflon. In a third rerun of the experiment, they added glass chips to the Teflon container mixture. The team speculated that the reactions performed in the presence of glass would generate more complex molecules because glass contains silicates. Silicate can get dissolved and reabsorbed on to the surface of a mixture and so affect what type of reactions occur, says Di Mauro. Teflon on the other hand, which wasn’t widely used in the 1950s when Miller and Urey ran their experiment, is chemically inert and has no such effect. Di Mauro’s team found that the glass beaker did indeed contain the most diverse mixture of complex organic reaction products. Meanwhile, the Teflon beaker with glass chips produced fewer complex compounds – probably because the glass chips had a lower combined surface area than the glass beaker itself. There were even fewer complex compounds when the experiment was run in a Teflon beaker with no glass present.

10-23-21 How much less likely are you to spread covid-19 if you're vaccinated?
People who are fully vaccinated against covid-19 are far less likely to infect others, despite the arrival of the delta variant, several studies show. The findings refute the idea, which has become common in some circles, that vaccines no longer do much to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “They absolutely do reduce transmission,” says Christopher Byron Brooke at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Vaccinated people do transmit the virus in some cases, but the data are super crystal-clear that the risk of transmission for a vaccinated individual is much, much lower than for an unvaccinated individual.” A recent study found that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant are 63 per cent less likely to infect people who are unvaccinated. This is only slightly lower than with the alpha variant, says Brechje de Gier at the Center for Epidemiology and Surveillance of Infectious Diseases in the Netherlands, who led the study. Her team had previously found that vaccinated people infected with alpha were 73 per cent less likely to infect unvaccinated people. What is important to realise, de Gier says, is that the full effect of vaccines on reducing transmission is even higher than 63 per cent, because most vaccinated people don’t become infected in the first place. De Gier and her team used data from the Netherlands’ contact tracing system to work out the so-called secondary attack rate – the proportion of contacts infected by positive cases. They then worked out how much this was reduced by vaccination, adjusting for factors such as age. De Gier says they cannot calculate the full reduction in transmission due to vaccination, because they don’t know exactly how much vaccination reduces the risk of infection. But even assuming vaccination only halves the risk of infection, this would still imply that vaccines reduce transmission by more than 80 per cent overall.

10-23-21 What does the first successful test of a pig-to-human kidney transplant mean?
The milestone is a step toward solving shortages of the organ but hurdles remain. Surgeons in New York City successfully attached a pig kidney to a human patient and watched the pinkish organ function normally for 54 hours. While such procedures have been done in nonhuman primates, this is the first time that a pig kidney has been transplanted to a human body and not been immediately rejected. The procedure, announced in a news conference October 21, marks progress toward the goal of drastically expanding the supply of life-saving organs. Millions of people around the world are waiting for donated organs, many of which never come. While the details of the procedure have not yet been peer reviewed nor published in a journal, “it’s a significant step,” says Megan Sykes, an immunologist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the research. But there are many more steps to be taken before patients waiting for a kidney can easily get one from a pig, she says. Here are answers to some basic questions about the milestone. “We’re never going to satisfy the organ shortage problem with human organs,” says John Scandling, a nephrologist at Stanford University who wasn’t involved in this research. “There’s a limit to the number of deceased donor organs that are viable,” and too few donations from living people. In the United States, over 100,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, about 90 percent of whom need a kidney. But in 2019, less than 40,000 transplantations occurred. About 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. Scientists have long sought to solve this shortage by using animal organs, a field known as xenotransplantation. Pigs have emerged as the primary focus of this research, since their organs are anatomically similar to human organs, and the animals can be bred in a highly controlled manner.

10-22-21 How these sea-loving mangroves ended up far from the coast
Warming more than 100,000 years ago raised sea levels and displaced the plants far inland Nearly 200 kilometers from the sea, red mangroves thrive in the rainforests along the San Pedro Mártir River on the Yucatán Peninsula. But how did these tangled trees that typically grow in salty water along coasts end up trapped so far inland and in freshwater? Carlos Burelo has been mulling a version of that question ever since he visited the river on a fishing trip with his father 35 years ago. As a kid, he saw how the mangroves with their twisted aboveground roots were different from other trees, an observation that stuck with him into adulthood as a biologist at the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco in Villahermosa, Mexico. Now, genetic analyses, surveys of vegetation and sediments and simulations of shifts in sea levels show that the red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) are part of a “relict ecosystem” that has existed for more than 100,000 years. When warming during the last interglacial period, which peaked about 130,000 years ago, raised sea levels approximately 9 meters above present-day levels, the lowlands of what’s now the Yucatán Peninsula flooded. As a result, the mangrove forest was displaced and started to grow inland by today’s standards, Burelo and colleagues report in the Oct. 12 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When sea levels dropped as the world cooled again, the trees were left far from the coast. “The remarkable resilience of these trees, in particular, is striking — that although they’re normally adapted to seawater, they’ve survived all this time inland is incredible,” says Holly Jones, a conservation biologist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb who wasn’t involved in the new study. To estimate where the mangroves may have been displaced from, the team collected leaves from the trees and from other mangrove forests along the coasts of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico and compared the plants’ DNA. That work pinpointed the origins of the inland mangroves about 170 kilometers away along the Gulf of Mexico.

10-22-21 Children born without key immune cells saved with engineered organ
Infants who would normally have died because they lack a key immune organ can now survive to adulthood thanks to a thigh implant that produces immune cells for fighting infections. About five out of every million children born in the US are missing a thymus – an organ above the heart where important immune cells called T-cells mature. Without this organ, children have no way of fighting infections and usually die before the age of 3. Mary Louise Markert at Duke University in North Carolina and her colleagues have spent almost three decades developing a thymus replacement for these children. On 8 October, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved their product – called Rethymic – after it was shown to dramatically boost life expectancy for children without a thymus. One of the first infants to be experimentally treated with Rethymic in the 1990s is now 25 years old, and another four are older than 18. “The FDA approval is super exciting because families won’t have to worry every day about their children getting life-threatening infections,” says Elena Hsieh at Children’s Hospital Colorado in the US. Rethymic is made from thymus tissue donated by babies who have had parts of their thymus removed during corrective heart surgery. Markert and her colleagues engineer this tissue in their laboratory to make it suitable for transplantation. Thin strips of the engineered tissue are then surgically implanted into the thigh muscles of children without a thymus. This location was chosen because thigh muscles have abundant blood vessels that nourish the thymus tissue and allow it to successfully implant. Once the thymus tissue is implanted, it gradually starts producing T-cells. A study published earlier this year of 105 children who received these implants found they were able to start fighting infections around six to 12 months afterwards.

10-22-21 Lasers reveal construction inspired by ancient Mexican pyramids in Maya ruins
Scaled-down cousin of Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Feathered Serpent found in Guatemala. At Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, three giant pyramids rise above the ancient city’s main street, the Avenue of the Dead. The smallest of these is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which sits within La Ciudadela, or the Citadel, a massive sunken plaza with tall walls. Now, more than a thousand kilometers away at the Maya capital of Tikal in what’s now Guatemala, researchers have found a smaller plaza and pyramid possibly modeled after La Ciudadela and its temple. Teotihuacan is thought to have conquered Tikal in the year 378 (SN: 9/27/18). The finding adds to evidence of Teotihuacan’s influence over Tikal, the team reports September 28 in Antiquity. “The architectural layout revealed by this study is stunning,” says anthropological archaeologist Nawa Sugiyama of the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the new research. “The very orthogonal city planning with specific orientation of the pyramids gives Teotihuacan a very characteristic architectural style, making it easy to identify any Teotihuacan influence abroad.” What’s more, the newfound structures had six construction phases, the researchers say, most dating to a time in Mesoamerica that archaeologists call the Early Classic period, which lasted from about 300 to 550. That means that the Tikal complex possibly predates the Teotihuacan conquest of the Maya city in 378. If true, that would add more evidence to an idea that scientists have worked on for decades — that these civilizations were in contact much earlier than the conquest of Tikal, possibly trading and making political connections with one another. To uncover the pre-Columbian architecture, archaeologist Stephen Houston of Brown University in Providence, R.I., and colleagues at the Proyecto Arqueológico del Sur de Tikal along with the Pacunam LiDAR Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin used an airborne remote-sensing technique called lidar, or light detection and ranging.

10-22-21 Some dinosaurs may have lived in herds as early as 193 million years ago
Fossils of long-necked Mussaurus suggest that the creatures stayed together through their lives A treasure trove of fossilized eggs, nests and skeletons represents the earliest evidence yet of dinosaurs traveling in herds, a study finds. The newly unearthed egg clutches were found alongside the skeletal remains of dozens of newborn, juvenile and adult dinosaurs, suggesting the creatures stayed together throughout their lives. At about 193 million years old, the finds displace the previous oldest evidence of herd behavior in dinosaurs by at least 40 million years, researchers report October 21 in Scientific Reports. In southern Argentina, paleontologist Diego Pol of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew, Argentina, and colleagues found 80 individuals and over 100 eggs, all of the early sauropod ancestor Mussaurus patagonicus. Nests consisted of eight to 30 eggs, and analyses of five nests revealed that in each, the eggs were arranged in two or three layers within shallow trenches. Analyses of some skeletons revealed a diverse array of ages: At least 11 were hatchlings less than a year old, two were adults and nine were juveniles. Fossils of the first known dinosaurs, including sauropodomorphs — relatively diminutive ancestors of long-necked behemoth sauropods such as Dreadnoughtus schrani — date to around 245 million years ago (SN: 9/4/14). By the end of the Triassic Period, about 201 million years ago, sauropodomorphs, including Mussaurus, had become among the most abundant plant eaters on land. Mussaurus roamed in what’s now Patagonia’s deserts (SN: 5/20/19). The dinosaurs built the newly unearthed nests when the area was semi-arid, near a lake that may have periodically flooded and evaporated. A sudden flood may explain the dinosaurs’ demise. Mind-bogglingly massive sauropods didn’t arise until the Jurassic Period, which followed the Triassic. But fossils of Triassic sauropodomorphs like Mussaurus were already showing evidence of a growth spurt. The increased energy demands of larger bodies, the researchers suggest, may have required these creatures to coordinate their efforts, forming herds to forage across long distances.

10-21-21 Dinosaurs lived in herds 40 million years earlier than we thought
Dinosaurs were living together in herds earlier than we realised, suggests an analysis of the fossils of sauropodomorphs – a group that includes large herbivores with long necks and small heads, like Diplodocus. Sauropodomorphs were among the first dinosaurs to appear on Earth. They were the dominant land-dwelling herbivores for 40 million years, during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods. There are many proposed reasons for the successful survival of these dinosaurs, such as their height, large size and rapid rates of growth. Diego Pol at the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio in Trelew, Argentina, and his colleagues think that their social behaviour may have also played a key role in this success. In approximately 193-million-year-old rocks found in the Laguna Colorada Formation in Argentina, the team discovered the fossilised remains of 69 individuals belonging to a bipedal species of early sauropodomorph called Mussaurus patagonicus and more than 100 eggs. Previous excavations at the site had uncovered the remains of an additional 11 individuals. The researchers discovered that each nest contained between eight and 30 eggs, and the close spacing of the nests suggests that the area was a common breeding grounds for the M. patagonicus. Nearby, they found the remains of eight hatchlings clustered together, a mere 50 metres away from a group of 11 juvenile M. patagonicus that were all less than a year old. They also found nine individuals that were older than juveniles but younger than adults and were close together, as well as a pair of adults together. All of this evidence suggests that M. patagonicus lived in herds. Prior to this, the earliest evidence of dinosaur herding behaviour was from rocks that are roughly 150 million years old. The new findings extend that record by 40 million years.

10-21-21 Sperm quality has been declining for 16 years among men in the US
A 16-year study of US sperm donors shows that sperm quality has been steadily declining, possibly due to increased chemical exposure and lifestyle changes. Chelsea Canon at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, a fertility clinic, and her colleagues looked at more than 170,000 semen analyses conducted between 2005 and 2021 for healthy 19 to 38-year-olds from nine geographic regions across the US. The researchers say the data comes from a “diverse set” of men, although it is unclear how representative it is of the US population. Across all regions, the researchers found that the average concentration of sperm in donated semen dropped over time. The average number of mobile sperm in the semen – which is a better predictor of their potential to fertilise eggs – also declined. The results, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, on 20 October, are consistent with studies showing that sperm quality is also declining in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Increased exposure to air pollution and chemicals known as endocrine disruptors could be driving this trend, as well as lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and stress, says Ryan Smith at the University of Virginia. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can mimic our hormones and interfere with their normal function. They are found in pesticides, food packaging, cosmetics and other everyday products, with growing evidence suggesting they can affect sperm quality. At this stage, it is unclear if declining sperm quality is making it harder to have children, says Smith. Birth rates are slipping in many countries and more people require IVF to get pregnant, but there could be many other factors explaining this, like people trying to conceive at older ages when fertility naturally wanes, he says.

10-21-21 Lab-grown human mini-brains kept alive for a year by slicing them up
Miniature human brain-like structures have been grown in a dish for more than a year, much longer than has been achieved previously. The feat was accomplished by growing brain cells into a ball, then slicing it up so that oxygen and nutrients can reach all the cells, while allowing the structure to retain its internal tissue architecture. The standard way to study tissues kept alive in the lab is to grow them as a single layer of cells in a dish. Then it was found that if the cells could be coaxed into growing into a pea-sized ball known as an organoid, they mature into different cell types that interact with each other more naturally. Organoids may even show the distinct tissue architecture of the organs they mimic. Some brain organoids have even been coaxed into growing rudimentary eyes that respond to light. But such organoids tend to start dying and breaking apart after a few months because they have no blood supply, so not enough oxygen and nutrients can reach the core. This makes it harder to carry out experiments on them, says András Lakatos at the University of Cambridge. While some groups are trying to develop organoids with blood vessels, Lakatos and his team tried a new tactic: cutting up brain organoids into slices about 10 cells thick. In a study published today, the researchers show that they have kept the mini-brains alive for eight months – but Lakatos says some have actually survived for just over a year. “You still see quite good cell diversity and architecture resembling the fetal brain,” he says. Some of the mini-brains were made from cells taken from people with motor neuron disease, a condition that causes progressive weakness. These mini-brains behaved slightly differently to those made from cells taken from people in good health, which may one day lead to new ways to treat the illness, says Lakatos. “You can capture the moment when pathology occurs in the dish in front of your eyes. If you know how the disease starts, you might be able to prevent it.”

10-21-21 Botox relieves endometriosis cramps when injected into pelvic muscles
Botox injections can help to reduce painful pelvic cramps caused by endometriosis, a small clinical trial shows. Endometriosis occurs when tissue from the uterus spreads to other parts of the pelvis, often causing painful spasms of the pelvic floor muscles. Physiotherapy and pain medication can help, but many of those with endometriosis still experience severe cramps even with these treatments. Pamela Stratton at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and her colleagues tested whether botulinum toxin – known more commonly as Botox – could be an alternative treatment. They randomly assigned 29 women between the ages of 18 and 55 who had endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain to receive an injection of Botox or a placebo into their pelvic floor muscles. They used a dose designed to weaken the muscles enough to stop them spasming without completely paralysing them. Of the participants who received Botox, 73 per cent reported benefits, compared with just 29 per cent in the placebo group. The participants who received Botox also reported needing less pain medication in the months following treatment. Side effects were reported by some Botox recipients – including urgent feelings of needing to urinate – but they were rated as mild. Jason Abbott at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who has conducted another small clinical trial of Botox in women with chronic pelvic pain, says the treatment can also reduce pain during sex and when going to the toilet. “Patients can get good long-term relief and become more functional,” he says. However, because the effects of Botox gradually wear off, additional injections are usually needed every six months or so, which can become costly, says Abbott. He also notes that “it is essential that it is only done by trained professionals, since injecting into the wrong place may lead to incontinence”.

10-21-21 Vikings lived in North America by at least the year 1021
Scientists used tree ring data to more precisely date a UNESCO historic site in Newfoundland. Vikings inhabited North America exactly 1,000 years ago, a new study finds. Counting tree rings reveals that wooden objects previously found at an archaeological site on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula were made from trees felled in the year 1021. That’s the oldest precise date for Europeans in the Americas and the only one from before Christopher Columbus’ voyages in 1492, geoscientists Margot Kuitems and Michael Dee and colleagues report October 20 in Nature. Researchers have assumed that Norse Vikings built and lived at the site, called L’Anse aux Meadows, roughly 1,000 years ago. But earlier attempts to more precisely date the settlement, which included three dwellings and other structures made of timber and turf and is now a UNESCO historic site, were inconclusive. Evidence of a possible second Viking settlement in Newfoundland from around 1,000 years ago remains preliminary (SN: 4/1/16). The new study focused on four wooden objects found at L’Anse aux Meadows, which was first excavated in the 1960s. It’s not clear how the objects were used, but each had been cut with metal tools. On three of the finds, Kuitems and Dee, both of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and their team identified an annual tree growth ring that displayed a signature spike in radiocarbon levels. Other researchers have dated that spike to the year 993, when a surge of cosmic rays from solar activity bombarded Earth and increased the planet’s atmospheric levels of radioactive carbon. Counting growth rings out to the edge of each wooden object starting at the year 993 ring yielded the same age — 1021. Despite its precision, that date leaves unanswered when Vikings first set foot in the Americas. L’Anse aux Meadows might have been part of Vinland, a region in what’s now eastern Canada that is described in 13th century Icelandic texts as having been settled by Vikings.

10-21-21 Vikings settled in North America in 1021AD, study says
Vikings had a settlement in North America exactly one thousand years ago, centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived on the continent, a study says. Scientists say a new dating technique analysing tree rings has provided evidence that Vikings occupied a site in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1021AD. It has long been known that Europeans reached the Americas before Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. But this is the first time researchers have suggested an exact date. Writing in the journal Nature, scientists said they had analysed the tree rings of three pieces of wood cut for the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows. They said that using an atmospheric radiocarbon signal produced by a dated solar storm as a reference, they were able to pin the "exact felling year of the tree" to 1021. Such a solar storm - a huge blast of radiation from the Sun that hits Earth - was known to have taken place in the year 992AD, the scientists said. This enabled them to determine a more accurate date than previous estimates for the camp of about 1000AD. "The association of these pieces with the Norse is based on detailed research previously conducted by Parks Canada," the study says, adding that there was clear evidence the sampled wood had been modified by metal tools. It adds that the L'Anse aux Meadows camp was a base from which other locations, including regions further south, were explored. The authors say the discovery represents a definitive point for future research into the initial consequences of transatlantic activity, such as the transfer of knowledge and the potential exchange of genetic information and pathologies. L'Anse aux Meadows, a Unesco world heritage site on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland, is the first and only known site established by Vikings in North America and the earliest evidence of European settlement in the New World. Radiocarbon dating is a technique that measures residual concentrations of a radioactive isotope of carbon (carbon-14) present in an object. Carbon-14 decays over time and measuring how much is left tells you the age of a sample.

10-21-21 Archaeologists used tree rings and astrophysics to prove Vikings were in Canada in 1021
Scientists and historians have long known that the Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas, and now they know by exactly how much: 471 years. A group of archaeologists, geoscientists, and at least one dendrochronologitst — a scientist who dates events and objects using tree rings — reported Wednesday in the journal Nature that they have pieced together definitive evidence that Vikings arrived in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1021, exactly 1,000 years ago. A husband-and-wife team of archaeologists discovered the remnants of what they believed was a Norse settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland in the 1960s. Scientists now believe this settlement, L'Anse aux Meadows, was built by Vikings who traveled to Canada from Greenland. The team of Canadian and Dutch researchers pinpointed the elusive date of the settlement using evidence of an extremely rare solar storm found in three tree segments cut with axes or other metal instruments. Newfoundland's Indigenous people "didn't use metal tools" at that time, said Margot Kuitems, an archaeologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the study's lead author. This is "the only known date for Europeans in the Americas before Columbus," Michael Dee, a study co-author from the University of Groningen, told USA Today, calling that date a huge turning point in the history of human migration. "Previously the date was based only on sagas," Kuitems told NBC News, "oral histories that were only written down in the 13th century, at least 200 years after the events they described took place." The researchers knew that one of these rare solar storms — called Miyake events after their discoverer, Japanese cosmic ray physicist Fusa Miyake — took place in 992 or 993 A.D., and they found the telltale signs of radiocarbon 28 rings before the outer bark of those three pieces of wood, each from a different tree. With the date of that inner ring fixed, "all you need to do is count to when you get to the cutting edge," Dee said Dendrochronologitsts not involved in the research were persuaded by the findings. Until now, the dates for when L'Anse aux Meadows was settled were "guesstimates," Sturt Manning, an archeologist and director of the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory, told The New York Times. "Here's hard, specific evidence that ties to one year."

10-20-21 We now know Vikings were in the Americas exactly 1000 years ago
Before Christopher Columbus, Vikings were the first Europeans to reach the Americas. We now know to the year when they were there. Norse people were chopping down trees in Newfoundland in the year AD 1021, so they must have crossed the Atlantic Ocean by then. “Exactly a millennium ago, human beings for the first time in history had got across [the Atlantic],” says Michael Dee at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Evidence for a Norse presence in North America comes from one archaeological site: L’Anse aux Meadows, on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada. Native Americans living there had long been aware of grass-covered mounds, and assumed they were built by their ancestors. Then in the 1960s, husband-and-wife archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad realised the mounds were ancient buildings resembling those built by Scandinavian Norse people. L’Anse aux Meadows is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But pinning down when the Norse arrived has been tricky. Carbon dating has been performed on 55 Norse wooden artefacts, but the dates range from AD 793 to 1066, says Margot Kuitems, also at the University of Groningen. Obstructions like this led archaeologists to give up on trying to date L’Anse aux Meadows. Then in 2018, researchers led by Ulf Büntgen at the University of Cambridge discovered a new way to pin down the ages of wooden artefacts. Wood from trees all around the world carries traces of unidentified astronomical events, probably relating to the sun, that create temporary spikes in the amount of radioactive carbon-14 in the atmosphere. Büntgen’s team identified two such spikes, each with a distinct signature, in the past 2000 years: in AD 774 and AD 993. After learning of this, Dee, Kuitems and their colleagues reanalysed samples of wood from L’Anse aux Meadows to look for the radiocarbon spikes. “Trees lay down annual rings,” says Dee. “If you can find that distinct signal, you know you’re dealing with that exact year.”

10-21-21 Scientists found modern domestic horses’ homeland in southwestern Russia
Two genes tied to endurance and docility may help explain the equines’ success. Much of human history was made astride, or beside, a horse. The animal’s stolid speed and strength powered massive migrations of people, pulled plows that transformed agriculture and revolutionized warfare. Now, researchers have pinpointed where and when horse and human history became intertwined. Ancient DNA reveals that the modern domestic horse originated on the vast landscape of what is now southwestern Russia more than 4,200 years ago, researchers report October 20 in Nature. In just a few centuries, these horses’ descendants spread quickly across Eurasia, supplanting almost all previous wild horse populations. Hypotheses abounded for where modern horses were domesticated, ranging from Iberia to modern-day Kazakhstan (SN: 2/22/18), says Ludovic Orlando, ??a molecular archeologist at the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse in France. “It’s been debated and debated and debated,” he says, “but there was nothing like a smoking gun.” Orlando and colleagues analyzed ancient DNA from 273 horse bone specimens from across the continents, spanning 50,000 years of human and equine history. For most of that time, genetically varied wild horse populations were scattered across Eurasia. But starting around 2000 B.C., that variation vanished. By 1500–1000 B.C., domestic horses from Spain to Mongolia all descended from the same population, which the researchers traced back to more than 4,200-year-old specimens dug up on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, north of the Caucasus region and the Caspian Sea. Two genes were distinctly different in these modern horse progenitors and may have aided this rapid expansion, the researchers found. In studies of humans and mice, those genes influence endurance, weight-bearing ability and docility. Selective breeding by humans could have “recombined two really good factors not [previously] present in any horse,” Orlando says. “That created an animal that was both easier to interact and move with.”

10-20-21 We've found the time and place that horses were first domesticated
One of the most stubborn mysteries in prehistory has finally been reined in. A massive study of ancient DNA has revealed where horses were domesticated: around 2200 BC on the steppes of central Eurasia, near the Volga and Don rivers in what is now Russia. “Finally, we find where and when horses were domesticated,” says Ludovic Orlando at Paul Sabatier University in France. The domestication of horses was a crucial event because it revolutionised travel and warfare. Horses can carry riders and pull wheeled vehicles, enabling people to journey far faster than before. However, despite decades of effort, it hasn’t been possible to pin down where this event happened. That is partly because domestic horses are about the same size as their wild ancestors and don’t look significantly different – unlike most domestic animals. That means looking at ancient horse bones cannot tell us when the shift happened. “You don’t have an obvious smoking gun,” says Orlando. As recently as two years ago, there were as many as five locations that were serious candidates for the site of domestication, says Alicia Ventresca Miller at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They range from what is now Spain in western Eurasia to what is now Mongolia in the east. To resolve the mystery, Orlando teamed up with dozens of researchers to compile 273 genomes of ancient horses from all over Eurasia, plus 10 genomes from modern domestic horses. Most of the ancient horses had been carbon-dated, so their ages were known. The DNA from the modern domestic horses was most similar to that of ancient horses once living on the steppes of western Eurasia, in the region where the Volga and Don rivers flow from north to south and drain into the inland Caspian Sea. “This is a region of about 500 kilometres east to west,” says Orlando, and a little smaller from north to south.

10-21-21 US surgeons test pig kidney transplant in a human
US surgeons say they have successfully given a pig's kidney to a person in a transplant breakthrough they hope could ultimately solve donor organ shortages. The recipient was brain-dead, meaning they were already on artificial life support with no prospect of recovering. The kidney came from a pig that had been genetically modified to stop the organ being recognised by the body as "foreign" and being rejected. The work is not yet peer-reviewed or published but there are plans for this. Experts say it is the most advanced experiment in the field so far. Similar tests have been done in non-human primates, but not people, until now. Using pigs for transplants is not a new idea though. Pig heart valves are already widely used in humans. And their organs are a good match for people when it comes to size. During the two-hour operation at the New York University Langone Health medical centre, the surgeons connected the donor pig kidney to the blood vessels of the brain-dead recipient to see if it would function normally once plumbed in, or be rejected. Over the next two-and-a-half days they closely monitored the kidney, running numerous checks and tests. Lead investigator Dr Robert Montgomery told the BBC's World Tonight programme: "We observed a kidney that basically functioned like a human kidney transplant, that appeared to be compatible in as much as it did all the things that a normal human kidney would do. "It functioned normally, and did not appear to be undergoing rejection." A heart transplant recipient himself, Dr Montgomery says there is an urgent need for finding more organs for people on waiting lists, although he acknowledges his work is controversial. "I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one. "We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses - for valves, for medication. I think it's not that different." He said it was still early research and more studies were needed, but added: "It gives us, I think, new confidence that it's going to be all right to move this into the clinic."

10-20-21 Transplant surgeons report successfully testing a pig kidney on a human, in organ transplant breakthrough
Surgeons in New York successfully attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a brain-dead woman for two days in September, and the kidney immediately began to work with no signs of rejection, the medical team reported Tuesday. "It was better than I think we even expected," Dr. Robert Montgomery, who lead the team at NYU Langone Health, tells The New York Times. "It just looked like any transplant I've ever done from a living donor. A lot of kidneys from deceased people don't work right away, and take days or weeks to start. This worked immediately." Humans have been experimenting with xenotransplantation — animal-to-human transplants — for hundreds of years, starting with blood transfusions and finding brief success with primate organs starting in the 1960s. "Pigs have advantages over monkeys and apes," The Associated Press reports. "They are produced for food, so using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. Pigs have large litters, short gestation periods, and organs comparable to humans." But they also have a sugar called alpha-gal in their cells that leads to immediate organ rejection in humans. The pig whose kidney was used last month was one of dozens genetically engineered by a company called Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, to remove the gene that produces the sugar. Researchers not involved in September's transplant agreed the experiment was potentially transformational, but they differed in their predictions about how long it might be before living humans start getting kidney, heart, and liver transplant from genetically modified pigs. Some scientists said it could be as soon as a few months, but most said there are still too many unanswered questions about pig organs in humans. Still, there is a clear need. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on transplant waiting lists, 90,240 of them in need of a kidney. About 12 people on the kidney list die every day while waiting, and hundreds of thousands of people survive on kidney dialysis and are not even eligible for transplants. Kidneys account for 23,401 of the 39,717 U.S. organ transplants last year, according to the nonprofit Organ Sharing.

10-20-21 Quick saliva test can reveal cannabis use over the past 12 hours
A saliva-based test can reveal whether someone has consumed marijuana in the past 12 hours, and even provide the drug’s concentration levels, with results in less than 5 minutes. The fast-acting cannabis test is less invasive and far faster than current gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) tests that use blood or urine samples and can take several days to read. And unlike these other detection methods, the results focus only on recent consumption, meaning they can show whether a person is currently under the influence of the drug, says Hakho Lee at Harvard University. “There’s a growing concern about public safety with regard to cannabis use, especially for driving,” says Lee. “For alcohol, we already have a good test that can be done on the spot, but there is no [quick] test like that for marijuana.” Lee and his colleagues developed a rapid test that uses an optical sensor to detect molecules of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main psychoactive component of cannabis – in saliva samples. It is known as the Express Probe for On-site Cannabis InHalation (EPOCH), and would theoretically cost about £3.60 to purchase once available on the commercial market, he says. EPOCH uses a saliva-collection swab inserted into a free-standing, upright kit that mixes the saliva with THC antibodies and drips the mixture onto two tiny holes – one for testing and one as a control. The holes allow the sample to be perfectly placed in a sensor cartridge for the next step, which involves plugging the cartridge into a mobile telephone cradle. The docking site aligns the cartridge with a small LED light, a lens and the smartphone’s camera, which takes close-up shots of the sample to pick up optical signals when THC is present. The researchers validated the accuracy of their test with the help of 43 cannabis users and 43 people, including 13 traditional tobacco smokers, who didn’t consume the drug. EPOCH had similar THC detection accuracy compared to GC-MS testing.

10-20-21 The controversial new clinical trials that promise faster results
Standard clinical trials used to test new medicines are slow and cumbersome. The pandemic has shown that a new kind of trial is far quicker, but is it reliable enough? HUNDREDS of years ago, if you had a pain, a cough or a fever, an apothecary might prescribe you a tincture or – joy – a restorative course of leeches. Thankfully, medicine has come a long way since then. It is by no means perfect, but hospitals, drugs and healthcare have made our days inestimably more comfortable. Much of this is thanks to that bastion of science, the clinical trial, which tests whether a medicine or treatment is safe and effective. Evidence from such trials is considered the gold standard, and over the years it has helped us sort the quackery from the cures. It might be surprising to hear, then, that a growing number of doctors think the way we test medicines needs an overhaul. drawback was exposed during the covid-19 pandemic, when we desperately needed treatments for a new disease. Doctors were forced to use quicker methods of assessment, and at this juncture, it seems they paid off. “We were able to achieve in weeks what would have otherwise taken years,” says epidemiologist Martin Landray at the University of Oxford. If we can get robust answers about medicines in a faster way than standard clinical trials can, surely we are ethically obliged to do so. Some say yes: helping more people more quickly must be a good thing. Others worry that rushing medicines into use has got us into trouble before. Whether there really are speedier, more reliable ways of doing clinical trials is rapidly becoming one of the most critical questions in medicine. The origins of the clinical trial can be traced back to a major problem faced by British sailors in the middle of the 18th century. Thousands of them were dying of scurvy, a condition that causes spontaneous bleeding, pain in the limbs and ultimately death. A physician called James Lind suspected that scurvy could be cured by changes to sailors’ diets and, in 1747, he set up a small but pioneering test of the hypothesis. He divided 12 men with scurvy into six groups and augmented their diets in different ways. The ones who got extra fresh fruit fared much better than the others – and the rest is history.

10-20-21 99-million-year-old crab discovered trapped inside amber
A tiny crab is the first to be found trapped in amber from the dinosaur era. It lived in a forest area of South-East Asia 99 million years ago. Remarkably similar to modern crabs, the 5-millimetre-long crustacean is fully preserved, making it “the most complete crab [fossil] ever discovered”, says Javier Luque at Harvard University. “We are talking about pristine preservation, as in, not missing a single hair,” Luque says. “And even though it’s so small, we were able to see so many details so exquisitely, including the gills. That’s just mind-boggling.” Scientists have already studied a few crabs in 15-million-year-old amber from Mexico, but this new specimen, which came from amber mined recently in Myanmar, fills important knowledge gaps about how crabs – including those that can walk on land or live in freshwater – evolved. Although molecular estimates set the origins of non-marine crabs at approximately 130 million years ago, we hadn’t found any evidence of such crabs beyond 75 million years ago. Because the fossil appears to be a freshwater crab, it potentially extends the record of the group back almost 25 million years. The “exciting” discovery represents a new genus that the team has named Cretapsara: “Creta” for the Cretaceous period and “Apsara” meaning the cloud and water spirit in South-East Asian mythology, to honour the local culture and heritage. The species itself is C. athanata. Luque and his colleagues analysed the specimen under a standard microscope and X-ray micro-CT scanner. They clearly identified the animal’s eyes, antennae, pincers, mouthparts, fine hairs and all eight legs – including one that had separated from the body, probably as the crab struggled to free itself from the tree resin that engulfed it “like a time capsule”, says Luque. Despite its small size – its body measures a mere 2 millimetres wide – the ancient crab, which might be a juvenile, shares many common features with today’s crabs. “You have this roundish carapace [upper shell] and the very well-developed walking legs, the big eyes, the small tail tucked under the body,” he says. “All these features are modern-like.”

10-20-21 Covid vaccine pioneer: Lives depend on science funding
One of the scientists behind the Oxford Covid vaccine has said that our lives depend on future investment in science. Prof Sir Andrew Pollard told BBC News that other nations will overtake the UK unless the Chancellor sticks to his commitment to double science spending. Scientific leaders have been making representations to the Treasury ahead of next week's Autumn Budget. There is concern that a pledge to increase funding to £22bn by 2024 will not be met. Prof Pollard told BBC News: "Our very lives depend on our investment in science because so much of what we aspire to in our society requires a strong scientific base. We absolutely have to invest in science otherwise we will fall behind other countries over the months and years ahead." Those lobbying the Treasury to stick to its commitment have highlighted the key role UK science played in developing vaccines, drugs and providing invaluable scientific advice to the public and ministers throughout the pandemic. And the chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, Greg Clark, said a failure to keep to the pledge could threaten the UK's economic growth: "As we prepare to compete as a country in the future, it is unquestionable that one of our strongest assets is our science and technology base. "The world is becoming scientifically more intensive. For us to go backwards would be to opt out of future prosperity." Two British Nobel prize winners gave evidence to Mr Clark's committee this morning. One, Prof Sir Paul Nurse, said: "We have to have a country that thrives on brains and skills and that is driven by science and research." The other, Prof Sir Peter Ratcliffe, told MPs that the UK government failing to invest in science would be like New Zealand not investing in rugby. "We are good at it. Why wouldn't you invest behind strength," he said. "You might get away with slightly smaller investment than other countries for a while, but that's not going to last."

10-20-21 Transplant surgeons report successfully testing a pig kidney on a human, in organ transplant breakthrough
Surgeons in New York successfully attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a brain-dead woman for two days in September, and the kidney immediately began to work with no signs of rejection, the medical team reported Tuesday. "It was better than I think we even expected," Dr. Robert Montgomery, who lead the team at NYU Langone Health, tells The New York Times. "It just looked like any transplant I've ever done from a living donor. A lot of kidneys from deceased people don't work right away, and take days or weeks to start. This worked immediately." Humans have been experimenting with xenotransplantation — animal-to-human transplants — for hundreds of years, starting with blood transfusions and finding brief success with primate organs starting in the 1960s. "Pigs have advantages over monkeys and apes," The Associated Press reports. "They are produced for food, so using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. Pigs have large litters, short gestation periods, and organs comparable to humans." But they also have a sugar called alpha-gal in their cells that leads to immediate organ rejection in humans. The pig whose kidney was used last month was one of dozens genetically engineered by a company called Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, to remove the gene that produces the sugar. Researchers not involved in September's transplant agreed the experiment was potentially transformational, but they differed in their predictions about how long it might be before living humans start getting kidney, heart, and liver transplant from genetically modified pigs. Some scientists said it could be as soon as a few months, but most said there are still too many unanswered questions about pig organs in humans. Still, there is a clear need. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on transplant waiting lists, 90,240 of them in need of a kidney. About 12 people on the kidney list die every day while waiting, and hundreds of thousands of people survive on kidney dialysis and are not even eligible for transplants. Kidneys account for 23,401 of the 39,717 U.S. organ transplants last year, according to the nonprofit Organ Sharing.

10-19-21 'Delta Plus' subvariant detected in the U.K. Experts say don't panic yet.
U.K. officials are keeping a "close watch" on a new COVID-19 subvariant known as AY.4.2, BBC reports Tuesday. Also called "Delta Plus," the Delta variant mutation is causing a "growing number of infections," in the U.K. and might even contain its own survival advantages. The good news, however, is that AY.4.2 appears "unlikely to take off in a big way or escape current vaccines," BBC writes, according to experts. It is also not yet considered a variant of concern or a variant under investigation. "At this stage I would say wait and see, don't panic," said professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, of the variant. "It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously." Data suggests AY.4.2 could be 10 percent more transmissible than the most common Delta strain in the U.K. The spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said the AY.4.2 mutation is "something we're keeping a very close eye on." The AY.4.2 offshoot is mutation of the common AY.4, "which itself is an offshoot of the main 'parent' Delta variant," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. There have been few AY.4.2 cases in the U.S. thus far, but still, the mutation is something to watch, infectious disease expert Peter Chin-Hong told the Chronicle. "The tempo is the only thing we have going for AY.4.2 at this moment," he said. "We don't have as much biological plausibility that it will do much damage." Recent data suggests 6 percent of U.K. cases are the AY.4.2 strain, per Insider. Balloux said Tuesday that the variant is "rare" outside of the U.K., and in addition to the U.S., has been detected in Denmark at a decreasing pace. Read more at BBC.

10-19-21 Nearly every person in Iran seems to have had covid-19 at least once
Nearly everyone in Iran has been infected by the coronavirus at some point during the covid-19 pandemic, and some have caught the virus more than once, but the country still hasn’t achieved herd immunity. Instead, Iran is seeing a punishing new wave of deaths driven by the delta variant. Iran was one of the first countries after China to be hit by the pandemic, and it had a slow start to its vaccine roll-out. By July 2021, only about 3 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Mahan Ghafari at the University of Oxford, although information from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland shows that proportion has now risen to about 23 per cent. The Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank, has called Iran’s covid-19 mitigation measures “halting and ineffective”, and said the country’s response has been hampered by mixed messages from authorities. Understanding the effects of covid-19 in Iran has been made more difficult by limited official data. Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education stopped releasing province-level data on confirmed cases and deaths in March 2020. Ghafari also says that low and middle-income countries are more likely to under-report cases and deaths due to a lack of health infrastructure and testing capacity. To get round the shortfall in information, Ghafari and his colleagues analysed figures from Iran’s National Organization for Civil Registration (NOCR) on how many deaths there were from all causes in the first nine months of 2020. They compared these with historical data to see how many more deaths there were than usual. The researchers used this excess deaths figure as a proxy to estimate the number of covid-19 deaths and population-level exposure to the virus – an approach that has proved accurate in the UK and South Africa. The NOCR began releasing past weekly data stratified by age group in August, which allowed the researchers to reconstruct the dynamics of the pandemic in Iran from January 2020 through to September 2021.

10-19-21 Impaled turtle reveals new insight on the day the dinosaurs died
The Chicxulub asteroid that jolted our planet 66 million years ago is widely thought to be responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs and many other species. Now, we might be seeing its effects on individual animals too. A remarkable but controversial geological site seems to show how the asteroid caused the death of a turtle – which became impaled by a branch as the wave of destruction from the impact swept across the planet. What’s more, the evidence suggests that this happened during the northern hemisphere’s spring or summer. The findings come from excavations at the Tanis site – in the Hell Creek Formation of North Dakota – and were presented last week by Robert DePalma and Riley Wehr at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon. As DePalma told it, the turtle that his team found led a charmed life before its untimely end. There is evidence of bite marks on its shell, probably made by some species of crocodile that tried and failed to catch it. It had dodged predators and other dangers for five years – its estimated age at death – before the asteroid hit. “First, it would have experienced an odd seismic jolt, some minutes after the impact,” DePalma told the conference. “And then it would have seen tiny, red-hot glass beads [in the sky] as the ejecta would have started to come in from the Chicxulub site. Then, the surge rushed up, about 10.5 metres in depth. At that point, he or she got impaled by a branch. So it was a very bad day for the turtle.” The manner of the turtle’s death confirms that the Tanis site preserves evidence of a violent natural disaster, said DePalma, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Manchester, UK. In 2019, he and his colleagues published the first description of the Tanis site, arguing that it gives a snapshot of life on a river on the day of the impact. Back then, Tanis was an elevated region of sediment in the bend of a river near the coast of the Western Interior Seaway – a large inland sea that almost bisected what is now the US. The seismic reverberations of the impact, which occurred at a site in the south of the Gulf of Mexico, caused huge waves in the sea. These ran upriver, burying many creatures under mud.

10-19-21 Extinct Japanese wolf is the closest wild relative of dogs yet found
The Japanese wolf is more closely related to the ancestor of dogs than any other wolves found so far, according to a study that sequenced the genomes of nine museum specimens of the species, which went extinct more than a century ago. “I did not expect this conclusion at all,” says Yohey Terai at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan. It has long been clear that dogs evolved from grey wolves, but no living wolves are particularly closely related. So the prevailing hypothesis is that dogs evolved from a now-extinct group of wolves. But which ones and where? The Japanese wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax) was a subspecies that was smaller than most grey wolves. The last recorded one was killed in 1905, but several museums in Japan and Europe have specimens. This meant Terai and his colleagues could get tissue samples, mostly of bones, from which DNA could be extracted. Comparisons of these genomes with those of other wolves and dogs showed that the Japanese wolf sits on a distinct evolutionary branch of wolves that arose 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Some of these wolves evolved into Japanese wolves while others gave rise to dogs. This split most likely happened in East Asia, suggesting this is where the direct wolf ancestor of dogs lived. Terai hopes to extract DNA from ancient wolf bones found in this region to confirm this, but the preservation of DNA in such old bones is likely to be poor, he says. Even if it is confirmed that the wolf ancestor of dogs lived in East Asia, this doesn’t necessarily mean that dogs were domesticated there, he says. “It is not possible to determine when the dogs began to have a relationship with humans from the genome data,” Terai says. For this, archaeological evidence is required. The genomes also show that after the initial split, there was some interbreeding between the Japanese wolf lineage and early dogs. This must have happened at least 10,000 years ago, because 2 per cent of the genome of a 10,000-year-old sled dog derives from Japanese wolves. This interbreeding is likely to have occurred before the wolves reached Japan, the team thinks. Dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs have the highest amount of Japanese wolf DNA – around 5.5 per cent.

10-15-21 Your unique pattern of brain activity can be spotted in 100 seconds
We each have a unique pattern of brain activity and it can be identified after spending less than 2 minutes in a brain scanner. A connectome is a summary of a person’s neural connections produced via brain scans. These maps are usually depicted as multi-squared matrices colour-coded to show which parts of the brain are in sync and which aren’t. Enrico Amico at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and his colleagues looked at the brain imaging data of 100 people to figure out at what timescale a unique and identifiable connectome could be created. Previous studies have shown that these maps can be used to identify individuals. However, building a connectome typically requires data from multiple MRI scans taken hours apart. “So what we wanted to find out was, what’s the minimum time in a scanner necessary to obtain a reliable connectome?”, says Amico. Adding to the challenge is the fact that a connectome, unlike other methods of identification like fingerprints, changes over time. “Brain activity is a complex, dynamical process,” says Amico. But the researchers found that parts of the connectome could be linked to an individual’s unique pattern of neuronal activity – even when taken from a single functional MRI scan. “If you look at short time windows, the most identifiable parts of activity come from the subcortical and sensory areas of the brain,” says Amico. The researchers discovered they could create unique connectomes in 1 minute and 40 seconds, successfully identifying individuals from them about 95 per cent of the time. The team plans to next use this method to look at the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. “Based on my initial findings, it seems that the features that make a connectome unique steadily disappear as the disease progresses,” says Amico. “It gets harder to identify people based on their connections.”

10-15-21 The mystery of how long Covid damages our memory
In the 16 months since Chrissy Gibson was diagnosed with Covid-19, she has had to re-learn many aspects of her life. How to walk, how to talk, how to live. She is one of the millions of long Covid patients, who despite no longer testing positive for the virus, continue to have life-altering side effects like memory loss. This is how long Covid has changed her life.

10-14-21 Contraceptive pill may reduce polycystic ovary syndrome diabetes risk
Women with the hormonal condition polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which leaves them facing a higher than average risk of developing diabetes, may be able to lower that risk by taking the contraceptive pill, a large study has found. PCOS, which affects about 1 in 10 women, involves the ovaries producing too much of the male sex hormone testosterone. Those affected are more likely to be overweight and have more body hair. They also have higher levels of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, and their cells are less sensitive to insulin, which together can lead to type 2 diabetes, where people have high blood sugar levels. A team led by Wiebke Arlt at the University of Birmingham in the UK looked at nearly 200,000 people registered with UK family doctors, about a third of whom had PCOS, with the rest being carefully matched for other factors such as weight and age. On average those with PCOS had nearly twice the risk of being recorded with type 2 diabetes or a “prediabetes” condition of high blood sugar than the control group during the next four years. But those with PCOS who were on the pill had about three-quarters of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or prediabetes as those with PCOS who weren’t on the pill. The study couldn’t prove that being on the pill directly benefited people’s health, but it is plausible, as the most common types of contraceptive pill contain the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which have knock-on effects that lower testosterone levels, says Arlt. “There could be a non-reproductive reason for women with PCOS to go on the pill,” she says. Her team now plans to conduct a randomised trial to test the idea.

10-14-21 Snakes started eating birds and mammals after dinosaurs went extinct
The diets of snakes diversified massively in the aftermath of the mass extinction event that wiped out the non-bird dinosaurs, contributing to the existence of the 4000 snake species we know today. Three-quarters of all species on the planet, famously including all the dinosaurs except birds, were killed off in what is known as the K-T extinction event 66 million years ago. For the surviving species, the event gave rise to extreme changes to their surroundings, as well as less competition for food and living space. While the evolutionary diets of birds and mammals following this event are well known, the diets of snakes have been poorly studied until now. In one of the most comprehensive studies on the diets of snakes, Michael Grundler at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Daniel Rabosky at the University of Michigan analysed 34,060 historical records of snake diet relating to 822 extant snake species. The records were taken from publicly available databases. “One of the unique things about our study is that we’re able to use ecological information on snake diets that comes from analysing stomach contents of preserved museum specimens,” says Grundler. They then plotted the dietary data from each species on a snake evolutionary tree, calibrated against geological time. This allowed the two researchers to estimate when particular prey types – mammals for instance – began to be eaten by snakes. Before the K-T extinction event, snakes tended to have a diet of insects. However, the two researchers found that after the event, snake diets expanded to include birds and mammals. This may be because these animals became more abundant after the disappearance of non-bird dinosaurs, some of which ate birds and mammals. What’s more, as the continents continued to drift, snake species were exposed to new and different environments, also offering new opportunities to change diet. Grundler and Rabosky found the fastest increase in snakes’ dietary changes to be in tropical and arctic regions spurred by the emergence of different animals and plants in these regions.

10-14-21 Highly processed junk food consumption is rising among US adults
US adults have been eating more highly processed junk food over the past two decades, according to a national survey. Filippa Juul at New York University and her colleagues analysed data from a yearly survey that has been carried out since 2001. Each year, the survey asks a nationally representative group of 5000 US adults to recall what they had eaten in the past 24 hours. The team categorised foods into four groups based on the level of processing that had been applied to them, from minimally processed foods, which include fruits, vegetables and parts of animals such as steak, to ultra-processed foods, which include ready meals, breakfast cereals and fries. They estimated the proportion of the total daily energy intake provided by the four groups. The team found that ultra-processed foods made up 53 per cent of the daily energy intake of US adults in 2001, and this steadily increased to 57 per cent by 2018, the most recent year data was available. “This is the most long-term study of the trends in the US population consumption [of processed foods],” says Juul. Although a causal link between eating highly processed food and weight gain was recently shown in the first study of its kind, “there aren’t really policies that address this type of food as a group”, says Juul. This is partly because, until now, recent trends in ultra-processed food consumption in the US were unclear. “The increased consumption of ultra-processed foods may be a key driver of the pandemic of chronic diet-related diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,” says Lu Wang, who researches the effects of ultra-processed food on health at Tufts University, and who wasn’t involved in the new study. The team found that ultra-processed food consumption is lower in certain groups based on ethnicity and education level. “In terms of ethnicity, both non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Black Americans eat more ultra-processed foods than Hispanics,” says Juul.

10-14-21 One third of UK farmers could be depressed - survey
More than a third of people in UK farming could be suffering from depression, according to a new survey of wellbeing in agriculture. Women farmers reported particularly high levels of anxiety. The causes of stress include financial pressure, physical pain, the Covid-19 pandemic, regulations and bad weather. The findings come as pig farmers are reporting distress at having to kill their animals due to a shortage of abattoir workers. The lack of workers to slaughter and process the pigs is being blamed on a range of factors including Brexit and Covid. The survey by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) spoke to 15,000 people in UK farming and is thought to be the largest of its kind. Sophie Hope runs a poultry and pig farm in Witcombe, Cheltenham, that her grandad started in the 1930s. She says she has periods of feeling low and anxious, and shutting herself off. "Farming can be very volatile. There are times when we make OK money and there are times when we don't," she explains. The pressure of keeping the farm going for her young son and family, as well as 20 employees, also keeps her awake at night. "It can be crucifying. Sometimes I don't want to complain because I have a wonderful life here - it's more the pressure of keeping it going long-term for myself and everyone who's invested in the business." She says pig farmers are struggling, particularly at the moment: "I can see the anguish in people's faces. I can feel the distress and the worry, and the uncertainty of when's this going to end." The RABI survey was carried out before the shortage of abattoir workers became a problem in the UK. It found that specialist pig farmers were reporting the highest number of stress factors and rates of probable depression across all areas of farming. By contrast, people in cereals and general cropping reported fewer causes of stress and 70% were likely not experiencing depression.

10-14-21 Can long covid clinics in England cope if cases rise this winter?
The number of people with long covid being successfully referred to specialist clinics in England has fallen slightly, according to the first national figures on how healthcare capacity for the most debilitating cases is changing. There are an estimated 706,000 people in the UK today with long covid symptoms severe enough to limit their daily activities, up around 10 per cent on the start of August. Some people fear numbers will rise further in winter as people mix more inside, stretching the capacity of the 89 long covid clinics around England. The other three UK nations have none. Claire Hastie, who sits on the NHS England long covid taskforce and set up the Long Covid Support group, says she has “massive” concerns over a new wave of long covid cases in coming months, including in children. “It’s horrific what’s going on in schools,” she says, because a lack of mitigation measures and vaccination means a high risk of infection for children, and potentially long covid. Statistics published today show 4846 people were successfully referred to a long covid clinic in August, a 3.6 per cent fall on the 5029 in July. However, Melissa Heightman, who runs a long covid clinic at University College London Hospital (UCLH), says: “In my opinion from the coal face, I think we are in better place than we have been previously. Our waiting times are now starting to improve.” A spokesperson for UCLH says the clinic is now receiving fewer referrals from beyond the five London boroughs it usually supports, which it believes it due to more long covid clinics, and greater capacity at them, across England. “Referral rates are reducing but we know there are still a lot of patients waiting for care,” says Heightman, who was recently appointed a national leader on long covid by NHS England. Heightman says her focus in the coming months is on making sure long covid clinics don’t fall prey to emergency pressures if there is another spike in acute covid infections. “Concerns going into winter for me are really just about maintaining the post-covid pathways, alongside all the other pressures,” she says. “Whenever there’s another wave of the pandemic and an increase in in-patient numbers, workforce can be diverted to that need. It’s just about keeping everything going.”

10-13-21 The mRNA technology behind covid-19 vaccines can transform medicine
AMID the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, there has at least been one piece of undeniably good news: the success of mRNA vaccines. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were developed in record time and they have proved extremely effective. They are saving many lives, but this is just the start of something huge. Using the same approach could help us develop better vaccines for many diseases, including conditions for which we have no inoculation at present. And when the next pandemic comes, we should be able to get more of the world’s population vaccinated faster than we are managing this time. Even more exciting is the potential of mRNA medicine to reach way beyond vaccines. mRNA technology is a way of getting our bodies to make any desired protein, the large, complex molecules that carry out most key tasks in our bodies. With vaccines, the mRNA – which is short for messenger RNA – provides instructions for making viral proteins to provoke an immune response. But mRNAs can also code for human proteins for treating all kinds of disorders. As our feature reveals, instead of injecting people with antibodies for treating infections, for instance, it should be possible to inject mRNA recipes for those antibodies. If people have inherited diseases caused by faulty proteins, mRNA can provide working versions. The possibilities are endless. A growing number of drugs already consist of proteins, often antibodies, including the breast cancer drug Kadcyla (trastuzumab emtansine). Antibody drugs can be highly effective, but manufacturing proteins is difficult and time-consuming, which makes these drugs prohibitively expensive. mRNA therapeutics promises to transform this by getting our bodies to do the hard part of making the protein. In a way, it is just a different method of delivering drugs, but the speed and ease of the process is revolutionary. And with much more money now being poured into the field after the success of the coronavirus vaccines, that revolution is going to happen a lot faster than anyone thought possible.

10-13-21 Bubbles in blood open the brain for world-first cancer treatment
Doctors have shown that it is possible to safely deliver medicines directly to a person’s brain, in a world-first cancer treatment that involves breaching the “blood-brain barrier”. The method involves temporarily making blood vessels in a certain brain region more porous, to let a drug flow out of the bloodstream and reach tumour cells. Four women with breast cancer that had spread to the brain have had their tumours shrunk by a drug called Herceptin using this method. Blood vessels in the brain are normally more impermeable than elsewhere, as cells that make up their walls are more tightly joined to each other. This results in a blood-brain barrier that helps stabilise brain cells’ chemical environment and keeps out potential toxins and microbes. Scientists have been trying for decades to get drugs past this barrier. One of the leading approaches is to inject tiny bubbles into the blood, then aim beams of ultrasound at the targeted brain region. The ultrasound makes the bubbles vibrate, which widens the gap between the cells in the blood vessel wall. This method has been demonstrated before, but never been shown to be effective until now. Nir Lipsman at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, and his colleagues used this method to deliver the cancer treatment Herceptin to tumours that had spread to the brain in four women with breast cancer. After having treatments every three weeks, up to six times, their cancers shrank by an average of 19 per cent. The drug had been labelled with a mildly radioactive compound, allowing brain scans to show that it had reached their brain tumours. The results don’t mean there is now a cure for brain tumours, as most advanced cancers eventually develop resistance to drugs such as Herceptin. But shrinking the tumours of the four women is a proof of principle that the blood-brain barrier can be breached, says James Choi at Imperial College London, who wasn’t involved in the study. “For me this is the dream.”

10-13-21 Why psychologists can't decide if moral disgust is even a thing
WE SHOULD really care about disgust. Not only does it protect us from coming into contact with possibly dangerous substances, such as rotting meat, but it is also central to understanding our moral compasses. Yet, up until around 20 years ago, it was essentially absent from psychological research. Today, it is still shrouded in confusion. All other basic emotions, such as sadness and happiness, have a clear definition, but when it comes to disgust, psychologists are divided over whether it should actually be split into physical disgust and moral disgust, or whether it is only physical disgust that exists. Physical disgust is that feeling caused by things such as vomit or faeces. This varies between people, but it helps protect us from touching or ingesting potentially dangerous substances that could put our survival at risk. Moral disgust, on the other hand, is normally described as the feeling you get when hearing someone has broken social norms or moral codes. Seeing a person steal or hearing about someone having an affair, for example, might be enough to set off this emotion in you. Some psychologists argue that physical and moral disgust are two sides of the same coin. Others insist that, although the word “disgust” is used in both situations, when moral norms are broken, what people are actually experiencing is anger. Disgust and anger are both negative emotions that have been linked with morality, but whereas disgust motivates us to avoid things, anger pushes us to confront whatever it is that is making us angry. In my latest research, I have been examining the schism in psychology on disgust further using parent-child conversations. These are a valuable tool for developmental psychology as parents use them to teach their children about emotions, values and moral issues. They may also be particularly relevant to our understanding of disgust because children only begin to understand it when they are 3 to 4 years old, around a year later than the other basic emotions. This suggests there is a social component to disgust and that children’s understanding of it may be partly learned from their parents.

10-13-21 Ancient faeces show Iron Age miners ate blue cheese and drank beer
Fungi found in faeces from Iron Age people who worked in salt mines in what is now Austria suggest that people were eating blue cheese and beer at least 2700 years ago. There is earlier evidence for ancient cheese, found in Early Bronze Age tombs in Western China from nearly 4000 years ago, but these fossilised faeces provide the earliest evidence that “people produced cheese with even a flavour that is found in blue cheese”, says Frank Maixner at Eurac Research in Italy. The ancient faeces have “entrapped information like a time-capsule”, he says. “This is a fascinating thing.” Maixner and his colleagues discovered four samples of ancient faeces in the salt mines in Hallstatt, Austria. They sequenced the preserved genomes of the microbes in them. One sample contained the mould species Penicillium roqueforti, which is used to create blue cheese today. Although Maixner says environmental contamination is possible, all faeces were found in a similar location within the salt mine but only one of the samples contained P. roqueforti, which makes the team confident that the blue cheese was consumed. “For blue cheeses, you need high salt concentrations, which fits quite nicely in this site,” says Maixner. The team found wooden containers in the mines, which may have been used as cheese strainers, although further analysis of any fat molecules in the strainers is needed to confirm this. The genetic analysis also revealed the genome of a domesticated strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used to make beer, but not other yeast species, which suggests the beer was “probably more like craft beers which are more turbid. It would be more of a pale ale,” says Maixner. He adds that the constant temperature of 8°C in the salt mines would have provided ideal conditions for beer production. “It is surprising that salt miners would have such a gourmet appreciation for blue cheeses and fermented beverages. But then blue cheeses are a natural accompaniment to strongly flavoured beers,” says Patrick McGovern at the Penn Museum in Pennsylvania.

10-13-21 T. rex with feathers: China’s fossils are rewriting the dinosaur story
Twenty-five years ago, Chinese scientists revealed the first feathered dinosaur. Since then, they have unearthed a treasure trove of exquisitely preserved specimens that put dinosaurs in a whole new light. IN OCTOBER 1996, I was in New York City attending the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. The atmosphere was electric. I recall hurried encounters in hallways featuring black and white photographs and stunned reactions. Yale University’s John Ostrom – the leading expert on fossil birds and dinosaurs at the time – said the images left him “in a state of shock”. Another dinosaur expert, Phil Currie, then at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Canada, described being “bowled over”. At the centre of all the fuss was a specimen that had recently been uncovered in China. No paper had yet been published describing the animal, but Pei-ji Chen at the Nanjing Paleontology Institute had pictures, and they were jaw dropping. They showed a feathered dinosaur – the first ever seen in the West. It confirmed what Ostrom, Currie and others had long been arguing: birds are dinosaurs. As Malcolm Browne wrote in The New York Times: “Rarely are scientific findings of this possible importance presented so casually.” Chen’s feathered dinosaur, later named Sinosauropteryx, was a shock, but nobody could predict that it was the harbinger of a deluge. Since 1996, thousands of specimens of dinosaurs and early birds have emerged from China’s Jurassic and Cretaceous fossil beds, most of which are exceptionally well-preserved, including their soft tissues – and especially feathers. This has stimulated 25 years of scientific advances that have not only upended the received wisdom about feathers and birds, but also given new insights into the evolution of flight, warm-bloodedness and dinosaur behaviour. What makes these fossils so extraordinary is the chemically unusual environment in which they formed. From about 160 million to 110 million years ago, there was continuing volcanic activity in what is now called North China, a large region north of Beijing. Some animals were buried alive under ash falls, like a prehistoric Pompeii. Many came to rest in ancient lakebeds where fine-grained sediments mixed with enough washed-in volcanic ash to make them acidic, minimising decay and scavenging. It also provided the right conditions to pickle the tougher soft tissues, including feathers, and even preserve internal organs, stomach contents and biomolecules such as proteins, lipids and sugars.

10-13-21 How mRNA is transforming the way we treat illnesses from flu to cancer
VIRUSES may be our enemies, but they have taught us a thing or two. When a virus takes hold, it hijacks our cells and puts them to work churning out the materials to make more virus. It is a diabolically effective strategy, allowing these invaders to rapidly grow their forces and get the jump on our immune systems. The thing is, if they can commandeer our cells’ protein-making factories for their own ends, why can’t we do the same to bolster our defences? We can, it turns out. This was the insight that set in motion decades of research that culminated in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against covid-19: they use the genetic material messenger RNA to tell our cells to produce a protein that teaches our bodies to recognise the invaders. The pandemic has been a proving ground for this technique, spectacularly demonstrating how rapid – and potentially cheap – it can be. “The covid vaccines really illustrate how quickly one can develop these medicines,” says Pieter Cullis at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “From a standing start you saw things being in the clinic in three months.” Vaccines are only the beginning. If we can recruit our bodies to make medicines this way, that opens the door to treating everything from bacterial infections to autoimmune conditions, rare genetic disorders and cancer. “It is a revolution in terms of the medicines you can imagine, and also produce and test very quickly,” says Cullis. It is early days yet, even if promising results are already coming in. And yet it is no exaggeration to say that this could change everything. To grasp why there is so much excitement about the potential of mRNA vaccines and related treatments, we need to go back a bit. Early vaccines consisted of “live” viruses, typically with mutations that make them less dangerous than the wild virus they protect against. Live vaccines can be very effective, but have drawbacks: they are tricky to make, because viruses can only be produced by living cells, and they can be a threat to people with weakened immune systems. What’s more, live vaccine viruses sometimes mutate back into a dangerous form, as happens occasionally with the live polio vaccine.

10-13-21 Nostalgia may have bona fide benefits in hard times, like the pandemic
Researchers hope to develop therapies that trigger special memories for mental health gains. Over 300 years ago, Swiss physician Johannes Hofer observed disturbing behaviors among Swiss mercenaries fighting in far-flung lands. The soldiers were prone to anorexia, despondency and bouts of weeping. Many attempted suicide. Hofer determined that the mercenaries suffered from what he called “nostalgia,” which he concluded was “a cerebral disease of essentially demonic cause.” Nowadays, nostalgia’s reputation is much improved. Social psychologists define the emotion — which Hofer saw as synonymous with “homesickness” — as a sentimental longing for meaningful events from one’s past. And research suggests that nostalgia can help people cope with dementia, grief and even the disorientation experienced by immigrants and refugees (SN: 3/1/21). Nostalgia may even help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. In a study published September 8 in Social, Psychological and Personality Science, researchers found when some lonely, unhappy people reminisced about better, pre-pandemic moments, they felt happier. The results suggest that nostalgia can serve as an antidote to loneliness during the pandemic, the researchers conclude. “A good analogy is the immune system,” says social psychologist Tim Wildschut of the University of Southampton in England. “A viral infection may make you ill, but it also activates your immune system and your immune system makes you better. Loneliness reduces happiness but also triggers nostalgia, and nostalgia increases happiness.” In the new study, Wildschut and colleagues first surveyed over 3,700 participants in the United States, United Kingdom and China to assess people’s levels of loneliness, nostalgia and happiness during the early days of the pandemic. Surveys varied slightly by country, but for most questions or statements, participants responded on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 for “not at all” and 7 for “very much.” For instance, participants in the United States rated how isolated they felt from the rest of the world in the week prior to the survey, how happy they felt compared with their peers and their overall feelings of nostalgia.

10-13-21 Vaping: FDA approves e-cigarette in US for first time
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical products in the US, has approved an e-cigarette for sale for the first time. It authorised the marketing of three products from RJ Reynolds, under the Vuse brand. The FDA decided that the benefit to adults trying to quit smoking outweighs the risk of teenagers becoming hooked. The permitted products are tobacco-flavoured, as opposed to the sweet flavours popular with younger people. E-cigarettes have been widely sold in the US for the past decade, but their take-up by teenagers has caused concern. Manufacturers have been waiting more than a year for official authorisation, as the FDA examined the potential pros and cons for public health. The FDA, which was given the power to regulate new tobacco products more than a decade ago, has been carrying out a study of e-cigarettes to decide which ones can continue to be sold. A decision on the market leader, Juul, is still awaited. A study released last month by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that more than two million school pupils had used e-cigarettes this year, with 80% using flavoured products. Tuesday's FDA ruling applies to the Vuse Solo ENDS e-cigarette and accompanying tobacco-flavoured pods. Explaining the FDA's reasoning, Mitch Zeller, its director for tobacco products said: "The manufacturer's data demonstrates its tobacco-flavoured products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products - either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption - by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals." He also warned that the authorisation could be withdrawn if there were signs of significant use of the product by people who did not previously use tobacco, including young people. The FDA said that young people were "less likely to start using tobacco-flavoured ENDS products and then switch to higher-risk products, such as combusted cigarettes. "The data also suggest that most youth and young adults who use ENDS begin with flavours such as fruit, candy or mint, and not tobacco flavours."

10-12-21 For the 1st time, FDA authorizes e-cigarettes
The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized e-cigarettes for the first time, saying data submitted by R.J. Reynolds indicates the company's Vuse digital vapor cigarette could help adults who are trying to quit or cut down on smoking. This decision only applies to Vuse's refillable Solo Power devices and nicotine cartridges that are tobacco flavored. The FDA said R.J. Reynolds requested authorization of other flavored products, and those petitions were rejected. Last month, the FDA said it denied applications for more than 1 million e-cigarettes and associated products, primarily because they could appeal to minors, The Associated Press reports. There haven't been many studies on how well e-cigarettes help smokers who are trying to quit, and companies have to show their products benefit public health in order to stay on the market. This first authorization is an "important step" toward "ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA's robust, scientific premarket evaluation," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's tobacco center, said in a statement.

10-12-21 Task force shifts advice on aspirin use for preventing heart disease and strokes
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday posted preliminary changes to its guidance on older adults taking aspirin to prevent heart disease and strokes. The task force is an independent panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine. In its draft statement, which was posted so the public can submit comments on it through Nov. 8, the task force recommends that adults between the ages of 40 and 59 who do not have a history of cardiovascular disease but are at a higher risk of getting it talk with their doctors about whether they should start taking aspirin. This is the first time the panel has suggested adults in their 40s communicate with their physicians about whether to take aspirin for heart health, CNN reports. Additionally, the draft states that adults 60 and older should not start taking aspirin to prevent heart disease and stroke, as there is new evidence indicating bleeding risks outweigh the potential benefits. "The latest evidence is clear: Starting a daily aspirin regimen in people who are 60 or older to prevent a first heart attack or stroke is not recommended," task force member Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng said in a statement. "However, this task force recommendation is not for people already taking aspirin for a previous heart attack or stroke. They should continue to do so unless told otherwise by their clinician." Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing roughly 1 in 4 deaths.

10-12-21 Methods of getting results from real-world experiments win 2021 economics Nobel
Economists David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens will share the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Some of the most insightful — and now most celebrated — studies of such major social issues as minimum wages and immigration have seized on naturally occurring events. Pioneering efforts by three economists to study the effects of real-life economic events that mimic controlled laboratory investigations have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. David Card of the University of California, Berkeley will receive half of the prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (or half of about $1.14 million). The other half will be split by Joshua Angrist of MIT and Guido Imbens of Stanford University. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the prize October 11. Research by the Nobel Prize winners was instrumental in the development during the 1990s of what are known as natural experiments. These investigations rely on naturally occurring differences between groups or populations that either do or don’t experience specific conditions. In this way, social scientists can study, say, how differences in income affect physical health or how immigration influences employment rates. Natural experiments are especially important because investigators of key social questions, such as whether pollution slows children’s mental development or whether strong public institutions promote economic growth, often can’t assign people at random to treatment and control conditions. It would be unethical, impractical or both. “The Nobel winners developed techniques that replicate the idea of truly scientific experiments like you would use to test a vaccine, except [the experiments] occurred in the real world,” says economist Phillip Levine of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. These methods “were at the forefront of a ‘credibility revolution’ in economics” that made the field relevant and understandable to the public, he adds. Levine was a Princeton University graduate student with Angrist, and Card was his thesis adviser.

10-12-21 Living sensors in our guts could provide early warnings of cancer
An engineered bacterium in the gut of an animal has successfully detected the presence of a specific DNA sequence for the first time. The approach could be used to create living sensors that provide early warnings of cancers or dangerous pathogens. “It is perfect for the detection of cancer and precancer throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract,” says team leader Jeff Hasty at the University of California, San Diego. Many groups are developing various kinds of biosensors for detecting chemicals, but ones that could spot specific DNA sequences would be extremely versatile and could have all kinds of potential uses. Hasty says this approach could also be used to detect cholera in drinking water sources, malaria in waters where mosquitoes breed and toxic fungi on crops or stored food, as well as for monitoring diseases via sewage. In the gut, the bacteria could even be designed to treat infections that they detect, says Hasty. “The list of [intestinal] infections, or even diabetic or vascular ulcer infections, that could be detected and thwarted by an early and direct response are vast.” To create their DNA detector, Hasty worked with Daniel Worthley at the Colonoscopy Clinic in Brisbane, Australia, and others to exploit two things. Firstly, many bacterial species actively take up DNA fragments from the environment. They usually do this to use the DNA as a food source, but when the imported DNA matches part of the bacterial genome, the imported sequence can get integrated into it. Secondly, most bacteria also have CRISPR immune systems that can target and destroy specific DNA sequences – CRISPR gene editing uses components from these bacterial systems. The researchers engineered a bacterium called Acinetobacter baylyi to detect a single-DNA-letter mutation in a human gene called KRAS, found in many cancers. They first programmed the bacterium’s CRISPR machinery to chew up any normal copies of KRAS the bacterium took in, so only mutant sequences could be integrated into the bacterial genome.

10-12-21 rchaeologists uncover massive, 1,500-year-old winemaking complex in Israel
Israeli archeologists on Monday announced the discovery of a Byzantine-era winemaking complex that they believe could produce about 2 million liters (520,000 gallons) of a sweet white wine that was exported to Europe, Egypt, and Turkey. The archaeological dig in Yavne, a town south of Tel Aviv, was uncovered over the past two years and gives a greater insight into how wine was made 1,500 years ago. "This was a prestige wine, a light white wine, and it was taken to many, many countries around the Mediterranean," said Jon Seligman, one of the directors of the excavation. The local vintage, known as "Gaza" wine, was consumed by kids as well as adults, for health and pleasure, he added. "This was a major source of nutrition and this was a safe drink because the water was often contaminated, so they could drink wine safely." Along with five wine presses, grape storage and stomping areas, and warehouses, the site contained thousands of fragments of clay jars and kilns to bake them.

10-12-21 The earliest evidence of tobacco use dates to over 12,000 years ago
It’s unclear how ancient North American hunter-gatherers used the plant. Ancient North Americans started using tobacco around 12,500 to 12,000 years ago, roughly 9,000 years before the oldest indications that they smoked the plant in pipes, a new study finds. This discovery replaces the pipe-smoking report as the oldest direct evidence for the human use of tobacco anywhere in the world. Excavations at the Wishbone site in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert uncovered four charred seeds of wild tobacco plants in a small fireplace, say archaeologist Daron Duke of Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Henderson, Nev., and colleagues. Those seeds, three of which the scientists radiocarbon dated, likely came from plants gathered on foothills or mountains located 13 kilometers or more from the Wishbone area, Duke’s team reports October 11 in Nature Human Behavior. The site was located in a sprawling marshland at the time of its occupation. Finds in and around the fireplace include bones of ducks and other waterfowl, a long, intact stone point and another point broken in two, a bone implement and seeds of several edible wetland plants. It’s unclear how ancient North American hunter-gatherers used the tobacco, Duke says. Wads of tobacco leaves, stems and other plant fibers may have been twisted into balls and chewed or sucked, with attached seeds spit out or discarded. Ancestors of Pueblo people in what’s now Arizona chewed wild tobacco between around 1,000 and 2,000 years ago. Tobacco smoking can’t be ruled out at the Wishbone site, Duke adds. The earliest evidence of domesticated tobacco, which comes from South America, dates to only about 8,000 years ago (SN: 10/29/18). Duke suspects various ancient American populations independently tamed the plant at different times. “Certain groups wound up domesticating particular [tobacco] species, typically alongside food crops,” he suggests.

10-11-21 Ancient seeds reveal we began using tobacco at least 12,300 years ago
Seeds discovered at an ancient campsite in Nevada indicate people have been using tobacco for at least 12,300 years, which is far longer than previously thought. Tobacco plants are native to North America, and humans are thought to have reached the continent around 20,000 to 16,000 years ago. “This suggests that people learned the intoxicant properties of tobacco relatively early in their time here rather than only with domestication and agriculture thousands of years later,” says Daron Duke at the Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Nevada. Duke and his colleagues reached this conclusion after discovering four charred tobacco seeds, each less than a millimetre wide, preserved under sediment in the remnants of a fire at the Wishbone campsite in Nevada, which was first discovered in 2015. The team retrieved burnt wood from the ash and used radiocarbon dating to estimate its age at 12,300 years, making the seeds the earliest evidence for tobacco usage by humans. Before this discovery, the oldest traces of nicotine were found in a 3000-year-old smoking pipe from a site in Alabama. “The tobacco seeds were the big surprise. They are incredibly small and rare to be preserved,” says Duke. The team think that Indigenous people may have smoked and sucked tobacco at the fireside alongside activities such as food preparation, cooking and tool-making. “We don’t know what people at the Wishbone site thought about tobacco, but its fireside use is something easy to identify with as a human being,” says Duke. People at Wishbone could have harvested tobacco leaves and stems, as these parts contain nicotine, and made them into wads of plant fibre, called quids, for sucking. The seeds, which don’t contain nicotine, will have been picked up during the harvest, then discarded into the fire once finished, the team speculates. Quids have been previously found to be used by Indigenous communities in this region. “Quids are something akin to pouch tobacco, placed behind the lip, then discarded when done. Of course, smoking was surely possible too,” says Duke.

10-11-21 Women are less likely to get pregnant for two years after a concussion
In the two years after a concussion, women are less likely to become pregnant than women who injure other parts of their body. To study the effects of concussion on pregnancy, Martina Anto-Ocrah at the University of Rochester in New York and her colleagues recruited 102 women with concussion and 143 women who had other injuries that required a visit to an emergency room in Rochester, New York. The participants were all aged between 18 and 45 and those with concussion all had head injuries from vehicle crashes. Those without concussion were only recruited if they had an injury serious enough to warrant an X-ray but hadn’t broken any bones. “We wanted there to be a psychological parallel between these injuries and those who had suffered a concussion,” says Anto-Ocrah. No participant had a history of being subject to domestic violence, so the researchers could focus on what effect a single injury may have on fertility. The team found that across the 24 months after injury, concussed women had a 76 per cent lower rate of pregnancy than the study’s other participants, even when taking into account a person’s ethnicity, education, use of birth control and obstetric history. Those who reported sexual dysfunction six to 10 weeks after their concussion had an 84 per cent lower pregnancy rate. “I was not surprised by the results,” says Anto-Ocrah. “We know that concussions affect menstruation and can cause sexual dysfunction in some women – it only makes sense that this would affect pregnancy rates also.” She says there may be several reasons. “There’s definitely a big psychosocial dimension,” she says, noting that concussion can lead to depression and make people less likely to want to be intimate with someone. But beyond that, concussion can also affect hormones key to pregnancy. “What happens is that hormonal regulation gets a little bit wonky,” says Anto-Ocrah. “Your progesterone and oestrogen levels get dysregulated, for example.”

10-11-21 Covid-19 news: Concern over critically ill unvaccinated pregnant women
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Unvaccinated pregnant women make up one in six of the most critically ill covid cases. One in six critically ill covid-19 patients in England are unvaccinated pregnant women, according to new figures from July to September. Of the 118 covid-19 patients in England who received extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) during this time, 20 of them were pregnant. ECMO is usually given to critically ill people who have not responded to going on a ventilator. Of the 20 pregnant women who received ECMO, just one had been vaccinated – though she had only received one dose, NHS England said. In April, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that pregnant women should be offered covid-19 vaccines, preferably the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna jabs. Out of the other 98 people who received ECMO between July and September, only seven people had been fully vaccinated, and three had received one dose of a vaccine. The strict lockdown in Sydney, Australia, ended today. The city has had tight restrictions for four months in an effort to tackle the delta variant. Over 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over are now fully vaccinated, and daily new infection numbers are falling. Infection numbers are rising in New Zealand as the country continues to ease restrictions. On Sunday 60 new cases of coronavirus were reported – 56 of them in Auckland. “We are still on the knife-edge,” Michael Plank at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch told Stuff. The government announced plans to relax Auckland’s lockdown last Monday – effectively ending its elimination strategy. Experts fear the virus could spread out of the city to less vaccinated populations. Covid passports will be required in Wales to attend big events or nightclubs from today. They will be compulsory for over-18s and will show whether people are fully jabbed or have tested negative for the virus recently. Wales’s rugby game against New Zealand on 30 October will be one of the first mass events to require Covid passes.

10-11-21 Football teams lost home advantage in lockdowns but it is coming back
It is a long-held belief that football teams playing in their home stadium get a boost from their fans. However, quantifying this effect on match results was difficult until the pandemic created an unprecedented natural experiment when most of the 2020/21 season was played behind closed doors. Statistics shared with New Scientist by London-based sports intelligence firm Twenty First Group show that home teams in Europe’s five major men’s football leagues lost a significant home advantage when their games were played in empty stadiums. But now fans are in the stands once more, that advantage is coming back. Home teams are winning more games in front of fans than when football was played behind closed doors and are mounting even more comebacks – a draw or win at the end of the game after losing at half-time – than before. Statistics from nearly 4000 matches played across the Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1 and English Premier League show that the win rate for home teams dropped to 40 per cent from 44 per cent when fans were excluded from stadiums and is at 42 per cent now that they have returned. The Premier League, which has permitted full stadium capacity this season, has seen a greater recovery. After dropping to 39 per cent from 46 per cent, home teams are now winning 45 per cent of matches. Some leagues saw no rebound in home advantage, possibly reflecting their ongoing restrictions on crowd capacity. Stadiums are only 41 per cent full on average across the five leagues compared with 77 per cent before the pandemic. The findings support a study by Dane McCarrick at the University of Leeds, UK, and his colleagues, who examined nearly 5000 matches in 11 countries and found that home teams won 0.39 more points per game at home with crowds, but only 0.22 more without spectators. Home teams with fans have more possession and create more chances, forcing the opposition to sit back and commit fouls, says McCarrick.

10-11-21 Lava-munching microbes were the earliest life on land
Volcanoes may have helped early microscopic organisms to colonise the land. The oldest known land-dwelling microorganisms lived in estuaries close to erupting volcanoes, which may have provided them with essential nutrients. “This sedimentary environment, interacting with the volcanic environment, created the perfect conditions for life to spread,” says Deon Janse van Rensburg at the University of Jena in Germany. Long before animals and plants, the only life on Earth was single celled. Fossils of microorganisms similar to bacteria have been discovered in rocks from Pilbara, Western Australia, that are 3.5 billion years old, and there are disputed reports of older fossils. Janse van Rensburg and his colleagues studied fossil microbes from 3.2 billion years ago that were found in the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. The fossils include some of the oldest examples of microorganisms living on land. “This is a huge area where you find almost continuous [fossil] microbial mats in [what was] a tidal environment and a shoreline environment,” says Janse van Rensburg. The team focused on a little-studied section of the belt called the Moodies Igneous Complex. This contains preserved lavas and other substances ejected from volcanoes. The combination and placement of the rocks reveals that the volcanoes erupted onto the plain of an estuary. “You have beautiful examples of lava that is interacting with sediments,” says Janse van Rensburg. There are shards of volcanic rock and other traces suggesting that lava hit water, with explosive results, and that it flowed over sand. Once the lava had cooled and solidified, water flowed over it and eroded it. Microbes lived in sheets called mats on and near the newly formed rocks. “Lava flowed on the surface into streams and onto beaches, and this was then weathered, and the microbial mats were living nearby,” says Janse van Rensburg. The volcanoes provided heat and energy-rich chemicals that the microbes could feed off.

10-8-21 Covid-19 dashboard: Cases, deaths and vaccinations
This interactive dashboard tracks the world’s recorded covid-19 cases and deaths, plus vaccines administered. These charts track recorded covid-19 cases, deaths, deaths per million people, and the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated, broken down by country. We’ve used logarithmic scales to allow us to compare trends between countries. Keep up to date with the latest coronavirus news via our covid-19 daily update. This chart is built using data from Johns Hopkins University and is useful for seeing the trends of outbreaks in different countries. A straight, diagonal line upwards indicates an outbreak that is growing exponentially, while an upwards line that is curving off shows an outbreak is slowing down. The accuracy of the data may be compromised by factors such as limited testing or delays to the reporting of test results. The true number of cases worldwide will be much higher than shown here. Some countries are better than others at reporting deaths, and the true number worldwide will be much higher than shown here. Plotting deaths per million people in each country makes it possible to compare which countries have been hit proportionately hardest. The same caveats apply: some countries are better than others at reporting deaths. The number of fully vaccinated people for countries which report the breakdown of doses administered by first and second dose.

10-8-21 UK public now eating significantly less meat
Daily meat consumption in the UK has fallen by 17% in the last decade, a study has shown. That reduction though is not happening quickly enough to meet a key national target, according to scientists. The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of our diets. This goal, set by the National Food Strategy, is based on a review of the whole UK food system - from farming and production to hunger and sustainability. It recommends meat consumption in the UK fall by 30% over the next 10 years. "We now know we need a more substantial reduction," said lead researcher Cristina Stewart from the University of Oxford. The new study, published in the journal the Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that while most people are eating less red and processed meat compared to a decade ago, they are eating more white meat. High consumption of red and processed meat can increase the risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. Meat production also has a higher environmental impact - producing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions - than other types of agriculture and food production. This Oxford-based research team used data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey - a detailed survey of the dietary habits of more than 15,000 people across the country. This showed that daily meat consumption had reduced by about 17g per person per day. What it did not reveal was the reason people were changing their diets. But market research in 2019 suggested that almost 40% of meat-eaters were actively trying to reduce their consumption, with many citing either health or environmental reasons. Dr Stewart stresses that, for those who want to reduce the environmental impact of what they eat, "any reduction in meat will have an impact". "You don't have to be vegetarian," she said. "Although, in general, meat-free dishes will have a lower impact. "But if you're someone that eats meat every day, reducing your meat consumption by 30% just looks like having two meat-free days per week." There is huge variation in the environmental impact of meat; it depends on what livestock are fed and where and how the meat is produced.

10-8-21 Dog DNA reveals ancient trade network connecting the Arctic to the outside world
Isolated communities traded canines and other goods with the Near East and Europe. Ancient Arctic communities traded with the outside world as early as 7,000 years ago, DNA from the remains of Siberian dogs suggests. Analysis of the DNA shows that Arctic pups thousands of years ago were interbreeding with other dogs from Europe and the Near East, even while they and their owners were living in one of the most remote places on Earth. Along with previous archeological finds, these results suggest that Siberians long ago were connected to a vast trade network that may have extended as far as the Mediterranean and the Caspian Sea, researchers report in the Sept. 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dogs have been valuable commodities in the Arctic for the last 9,500 years and have been used for sledding, hunting, herding reindeer, clothing and food. Because the region is remote, scientists thought local dogs — and their owners — had been completely isolated from the rest of the world for much of that time, an idea supported by the fact that ancient Siberians didn’t exchange much DNA with people outside of the region, says Tatiana Feuerborn, an archeologist at the University of Copenhagen. But previous archeological evidence — including the discovery of glass beads and other foreign goods entombed alongside 2,000-year-old dogs near the Yamal Peninsula in Russia — suggested that these communities were trading with other cultures beyond the Arctic. After reading about the archeological evidence in the news, Feuerborn wanted to see if she could use remains from the 2,000-year-old dogs and others from around Siberia to reveal whether an ancient trade network existed. Dogs rarely wander far from their humans, meaning researchers can “use dogs to understand human movement, like migrations and even trade interactions,” says Kelsey Witt, a geneticist at Brown University in Providence, R.I., who was not involved in the study. For instance, archeologists have used ancient dog DNA to push back the arrival date of people in the Americas (SN: 3/1/21).

10-8-21 How catching birds bare-handed may hint at Neandertals’ hunting tactics
Using tools Neandertals might have had, researchers test the ancient hominids’ hunting abilities. Juan Negro crouched in the shadows just outside a cave, wearing his headlamp. For a brief moment, he wasn’t an ornithologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s Doñana Biological Station in Seville. He was a Neandertal, intent on catching dinner. As he waited in the cold, dark hours of the night, crowlike birds called choughs entered the cave. The “Neandertal” then stealthily snuck in and began the hunt. This idea to role-play started with butchered bird bones. Piles of ancient tool- and tooth-nicked choughs bones have been found in the same caves that Neandertals frequented, evidence suggesting that the ancient hominids chowed down on the birds. But catching choughs is tricky. During the day, they fly far to feed on invertebrates, seeds and fruits. At night though, their behavior practically turns them into sitting ducks. The birds roost in groups and often return to the same spot, even if they’ve been disturbed or preyed on there before. So the question was, how might Neandertals have managed to catch these avian prey? To find out, Negro and his colleagues decided to act like, well, Neandertals. Wielding bare hands along with butterfly nets and lamps — proxy for nets (SN: 04/09/20) and fire (SN: 2/20/14) that Neandertals may have had at hand— teams of two to 10 researchers silently snuck into caves and other spots across Spain, where the birds roost to see how many choughs they could catch. Researchers in Spain attempt to capture choughs with their bare hands in roosting sites such as this building. The effort was part of a study to see if Neandertals could have successfully hunted the birds. Using flashes of light from flashlights to resemble fire, the “Neandertals” dazzled and confused the choughs. The birds typically fled into dead-end areas of the caves, where they could be easily caught, often bare-handed. Hunting expeditions at 70 sites snared more than 5,500 birds in all, the researchers report September 9 in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. The birds were then released unharmed. It was “the most exciting piece of research” Negro says he’s ever done.

10-7-21 Ivermectin: How false science created a Covid 'miracle' drug
Ivermectin has been called a Covid "miracle" drug, championed by vaccine opponents, and recommended by health authorities in some countries. But the BBC can reveal there are serious errors in a number of key studies that the drug's promoters rely on. For some years ivermectin has been a vital anti-parasitic medicine used to treat humans and animals. But during the pandemic there has been a clamour from some proponents for using the drug for something else - to fight Covid and prevent deaths. The health authorities in the US, UK and EU have found there is insufficient evidence for using the drug against Covid, but thousands of supporters, many of them anti-vaccine activists, have continued to vigorously campaign for its use. Members of social media groups swap tips on getting hold of the drug, even advocating the versions used for animals. The hype around ivermectin - based on the strength of belief in the research - has driven large numbers of people around the world to use it. Campaigners for the drug point to a number of scientific studies and often claim this evidence is being ignored or covered up. But a review by a group of independent scientists has cast serious doubt on that body of research. The BBC can reveal that more than a third of 26 major trials of the drug for use on Covid have serious errors or signs of potential fraud. None of the rest show convincing evidence of ivermectin's effectiveness. Dr Kyle Sheldrick, one of the group investigating the studies, said they had not found "a single clinical trial" claiming to show that ivermectin prevented Covid deaths that did not contain "either obvious signs of fabrication or errors so critical they invalidate the study". Major problems included: 1.The same patient data being used multiple times for supposedly different people, 2. Evidence that selection of patients for test groups was not random, 3. Numbers unlikely to occur naturally, 4. Percentages calculated incorrectly, 5. Local health bodies unaware of the studies.

10-7-21 Circadian clock made from scratch to probe how biological rhythms work
A circadian clock has been recreated in full inside a test tube. It is the first time the cellular pacemaker has been produced outside a living organism. The clock, copied from a cyanobacteria, was devised by Carrie Partch at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues. It is made from six proteins and can work without any human intervention for several days. “I think the record we’ve got so far is two weeks,” says Partch. Circadian clocks regulate the timing of the activity of an organism’s various cellular systems. In cyanobacteria, they usually work on a 24-hour light cycle. “By forming this clock outside of a living organism, we can more closely analyse certain aspects of the process,” says Partch. The team was also able to monitor the rhythms within the cyanobacteria, by fluorescently tagging the proteins to get real-time data on their timekeeping. Using this method and by adding mutations to the test-tube system that turned off certain parts of the clock, the researchers discovered that two of the proteins, called SasA and KaiB, are far more influential than previously thought. “We’d previously believed that SasA was just an amplifier of the clock – it kept everything robust,” says Partch. “But in this study, we found that this function is largely dispensable and, in fact, its main function is to recruit one of the clock’s core proteins, KaiB.” The team wouldn’t have been able to discover this by just looking at the clock in a living organism, she says. The next step is to determine how the clock trains itself to the 24-hour cycle in the first place, says Partch. “This is cool because they’ve managed to extend the in-vitro cyanobacteria clock to include effects on transcriptional output [which affects gene expression],” says Amita Sehgal at the University of Pennsylvania, noting that the clocks of more complex organisms like humans work via this system too.

10-7-21 Massage gun for mice shows how pummelling tissue boosts muscle repair
Massaging injured muscles may boost healing by clearing immune cells that interfere with tissue regrowth, a study in mice suggests. The approach may help people with muscle injuries from blood clots or physical damage, says Bo Ri Seo at Harvard University. Many people use massage to relieve painful muscles after exercise or for minor strains, but it is unknown if this has long-term beneficial effects. Massage is generally thought to improve blood flow and help disperse harmful waste products, yet the exact mechanisms are unclear. Seo’s team made a robotic massager that can gently pummel a mouse’s leg at right angles to the muscle while the limb is cradled in a soft clamp. The device – similar to a massage gun used by human fitness buffs – was used on animals whose leg muscles had been injured by having the blood flow temporarily cut off and then a toxin injected. Mice that were given two weeks of twice-daily “mechanotherapy” could exert about a 50 per cent greater force with their injured leg than those left untreated. Samples taken from the muscle tissue over the two weeks showed that massage was helping to get rid of immune cells called neutrophils. These normally home in on injured tissues and help to kill bacteria. The neutrophils seem to interfere with the normal process of muscle regeneration, where immature muscle cells develop into functioning muscle fibres. The researchers found this by growing neutrophils and muscle cells together in a dish. “These neutrophils help the muscle cells to grow at the beginning, but if they stay too long, they prevent muscle cells from making new muscle fibres to replace the damaged ones,” says Seo.

10-7-21 Some ancient giant ground sloths dined on meat
Giant ground sloths have often been portrayed as gentle giants of the ice age. Much of their anatomy, from their flat molars to their vat-like guts, seems consistent with a diet centered around the Pleistocene salad bar. But now there is evidence that some giant ground sloths had more cosmopolitan tastes that incorporated flesh. The crucial clues come from isotopes of nitrogen tied to particular amino acids preserved in the fur of Darwin’s ground sloth, Mylodon darwinii, an approximately 3-metre-long animal that lived in South America between about 1.8 million and 12,000 years ago. These geochemical signals act as a proxy for diet as nitrogen isotopes from what an animal eats becomes incorporated into the tissues in their bodies, in this case hairs that remained intact for thousands of years. Different plants and animals have different nitrogen signatures, and palaeontologist Julia Tejada at the University of Montpellier, France, and her colleagues found that Darwin’s ground sloth was an omnivore. The results dovetail with what zoologists have come to understand about living sloths. “Two-toed sloths are omnivorous, so it’s not too hard to imagine similar diets in some giant ground sloths,” says Melissa Macias, a giant sloth expert at Applied EarthWorks, a cultural resource management company in California. The key will be finding additional fur samples that allow more species to be examined using the new technique. “It would be interesting to see where other sloths would fall on the omnivory to herbivory spectrum,” says Macias, as gross anatomy alone can only go so far in informing an extinct creature’s diet. Realising that some giant ground sloths regularly consumed meat alters what paleontologists expect of ancient ecosystems, Tejada’s team writes. While another fossil sloth in the study named Nothrotheriops shastensis came out as an herbivore in the new analysis, Darwin’s ground sloth was doing something different. Given that giant sloths were both diverse and common in the Americas during much of the ice age, what they ate shaped their environments. In fact, palaeontologists have previously noted a seeming lack of meat-eating species in prehistoric South America – a role that giant sloths may have helped fill.

10-7-21 Giant ground sloths may have been meat-eating scavengers
The Ice Age beasts feasted on plants and meat, fossil hair analysis suggests. Modern sloths may be dedicated vegetarians, but at least one of their massive Ice Age cousins chowed down on meat when it had the chance. Darwin’s ground sloth — which could grow to over 3 meters long and weigh as much as about 2,000 kilograms — may have been an opportunistic scavenger, chemical analyses of fossil sloth hair suggest. Paleontologist Julia Tejada of the University of Montpellier in France and colleagues analyzed the chemical makeup of two amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, within the fossil hair of two giant ground sloth species: Darwin’s ground sloth (Mylodon darwinii) of South America and the Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) of North America (SN: 4/25/18). The team compared these with samples from living sloths, anteaters and other modern omnivores. Nitrogen isotopes, different forms of the element, can vary a lot among different food sources as well as between ecosystems. Those isotope values in one amino acid, glutamine, change significantly with diet, increasing the higher the animal is on the food chain. But diet has little impact on the nitrogen values in another amino acid, phenylalamine. By comparing the nitrogen isotopes in the two amino acids found in the sloths’ hair, the researchers were able to eliminate ecosystem effects and zoom in on diets. The data reveal that while the diet of the Shasta ground slothwas exclusively plant-based, Darwin’s ground sloth was an omnivore, Tejada and colleagues report October 7 in Scientific Reports. The findings upend what scientists thought they knew about the ancient animals. Scientists have assumed the ancient creatures were herbivores. That’s in part because all six modern species of sloth are confirmed vegetarians, and in part giant ground sloths’ teeth and jaws weren’t adapted for hunting or powerful chewing and tearing (SN: 6/20/16).

10-7-21 How our SN 10 scientists have responded to tumultuous times
Each year since 2015, Science News has featured the work of outstanding early- and mid-career scientists in our SN 10: Scientists to Watch list. They’re nominated by Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, and are recognized because of their curiosity, passion, determination and, of course, their discoveries. But we decided that 2021 begs for something different. The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage worldwide, with its burdens falling hardest on those least able to bear them — inequities already on our minds due to Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other social movements. At the same time, we’re learning that the window to reverse some of climate change’s most devastating effects is closing fast. With all the upheaval, we wondered: How do these extraordinary times change a scientist’s work? Here, we catch up with 10 noteworthy Scientists to Watch alumni. Emily Fischer, who studies wildfire smoke, has faced the threat of fires firsthand, cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Cantlon is fighting sexual harassment in the sciences and economist Parag Pathak is taking his efforts to make institutions more equitable from schools to hospitals. Other scientists reveal how their work has gained new urgency and meaning for them. The interviews that follow have been edited for length and clarity. Jessica Cantlon, featured in 2016, studies the evolution and development of complex mathematical thinking, including the traits that set humans apart from other primates. In 2017, she was recognized as a Time Person of the Year, as a “silence breaker” speaking out against sexual harassment during the height of the #MeToo movement. We’ve expanded our repertoire to compare people across different cultures, who have different educational practices. What has been the most notable progress in your research since 2016? We’ve been going to Bolivia to work with this group of people called the Tsimane, who live in rural parts of the Amazon forest. They don’t have the rigid, formal schooling where kids go through these particular curricula to achieve mathematical cognition. Instead, education there is more organic and more deeply connected to their way of life. That allows us to try to understand what effect does a particular type of education have on numerical thinking.

10-6-21 Are there any evolutionary advantages of perimenopausal hot flushes?
Are perimenopausal hot flushes just a side effect of changing hormones or are there possible evolutionary advantages to them? I can confirm that hot flushes contributed to my survival when packing daffodils in January and February in a cold shed at night. At times, it was difficult to tell the flush from the “daffy rash”, a red burning rash you can get from the sap of cut daffodils, which we were packing for supermarkets. The packing sheds were kept cold to stop the flowers opening, so a hot flush was a definite bonus. I think hot flushes are just a side effect of menopause. They are self-limiting for most women, and when their hormones have adjusted, the hot flushes stop. About 20 per cent of women have none or very few, 25 per cent have moderate to severe hot flushes and the rest are in between. They can be distressing and affect quality of life for some, but there are effective treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. Menopause itself may well be adaptive, however. Human females are unusual in that their reproductive phase of life stops well before death and before other age-related physical changes happen. Most animals and birds reproduce throughout life. Only five species are known to experience it: orcas, short-finned pilot whales, belugas, narwhals and humans. In general, non-human primates are fertile through to advanced age. So why are humans different in this respect? Two main hypotheses have been proposed: non-adaptive and adaptive. The main non-adaptive idea suggests that the menopause happens because there is a limited supply of eggs at birth, and humans have a considerably longer lifespan than other mammals of similar size. As a result, we run out of eggs by middle age. In other words, menopause is a by-product of a long life.

10-6-21 Eating to Extinction review: Are our bland diets bad for the world?
OUR diets are more homogenous than at any other point in human history, says food journalist Dan Saladino. Particularly in the West, a revolution in farming methods since the second world war has led us to a point where much of what we eat comes from just a few established varieties of crops and animals, controlled by a handful of companies. This has undoubtedly had many benefits for humanity, making food supplies more predictable, cheaper and more accessible, and helping to curb malnutrition. Yet in his new book, Eating to Extinction: The world’s rarest foods and why we need to save them, Saladino argues that it has also pushed thousands of little-known foods, many with beneficial characteristics or rich historical and cultural significance, to the brink of extinction. “The human diet has undergone more change in the last 150 years (roughly six generations) than in the previous one million years (around 40,000 generations),” he writes. This is worrisome, because restricting ourselves to such a narrow range of varieties diminishes the genetic variation that might protect crops and livestock from disease. It also narrows the diversity of our gut microbiome, which is vital for our health and well-being, and risks the loss of entire culinary traditions forever. As Saladino puts it, “where nature creates diversity, the food system crushes it”. Through a narrative that weaves science and history with stories spanning every corner of the globe, Saladino makes an urgent call to protect the world’s rare foods. The alternative, he warns, is a future where we lose our grip on nature and the vital services it provides, perhaps permanently. The book is split into 10 parts, each focusing on a different category: wild foods (hunted or foraged); cereals; vegetables; meat; fish and seafood; fruit; cheese; alcohol; stimulants (tea and coffee) and sweet foods. In every chapter, Saladino highlights a few ingredients and traces their origins, meeting the people who are championing food biodiversity. Often, these individuals represent the last line of defence between a food and its extinction.

10-6-21 Repressed memories: The dangerous idea we can’t seem to forget
The idea that recollections of traumatic experiences can be locked away only to suddenly re-emerge years later has once again become a hotly debated issue, with serious implications for investigations of historical abuse. ON A February night 10 years ago, John Zebedee murdered his father. As John later told police, he was awoken by 94-year-old Harry Zebedee, who had dementia. When John went to check on him, Harry made a gesture that triggered John’s memory of childhood sexual abuse his father had inflicted. When the older man was found strangled to death, John confessed to the killing. He was later convicted of murder. At the time of his arrest, John described in detail how his father had assaulted him when he was a child. But months later, John said his father hadn’t abused him after all. “He wrote to me from prison,” says psychologist Julia Shaw at University College London. He told Shaw that he had sought treatment for an alcohol use disorder and it was only then that the subject of abuse came up. “He says that… a therapist suggested to him that he must have been abused as a child,” says Shaw. The idea that memories can be repressed, only to suddenly re-emerge years later, was debunked in the 1990s, when memory researchers pointed out that the concept goes against everything we know about how memory works. They also noted that it is so easy to implant false memories that it is impossible to tell a recovered memory from an implanted one. With that, the idea should have been consigned to history. Yet in recent years, it has become clear that the belief in memory repression has lingered among some therapists, the public and in the criminal justice systems of many countries. “It has not ended at all,” says Henry Otgaar, a clinical and forensic psychologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “It could be even worse.” Otgaar and others are warning that, in an era where historical cases of sexual abuse are increasingly being investigated, good science is more important than ever. Unless something changes, he believes, unsafe convictions based on bad science will wreck lives, while people with real, but patchy memories of abuse might not be believed. And people who believe they have uncovered repressed memories can experience significant distress, sometimes unnecessarily, as can their families.

10-6-21 Drug treatment for Lyme disease could lead to its eradication
The discovery that a chemical is deadly to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease but harmless to animals might allow the disease to be eradicated in the wild. “Lyme disease is well-positioned to be eradicated,” says Kim Lewis at Northeastern University in Boston. “We are gearing up, the first field trial will be next summer.” Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that lurks in wild mice. Ticks that feed on the mice become infected and can infect other animals, including people. The disease is a growing problem in North America, Europe and Asia. It initially causes a characteristic “bullseye” rash and a flu-like illness. If untreated, it can lead to serious long-term problems, such as Lyme arthritis. At present, it is treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline that kill a wide range of bacteria. However, this disrupts the gut microbiome, causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, and can also lead to more antibiotic resistance. Now, Lewis’s team has found that a compound called hygromycin A is completely harmless to animals and has little effect on most bacteria, but is extremely deadly to spirochaete bacteria such as B. burgdorferi. Spirochaete bacteria have a corkscrew shape that enables them to burrow into tissues. They also cause diseases such as syphilis, says Lewis. “They are pretty nasty pathogens.” In animal tests, the team didn’t observe any harmful effects of hygromycin no matter how high the dose. “It is unusually safe,” says Lewis. A company called FlightPath is now filing in the US for the initial go-ahead required before the chemical can be tested in people. Hygromycin could also potentially be used as a treatment for syphilis, particularly because this bacterial infection is evolving resistance to standard treatments. What’s more, Lewis’s team has shown that feeding baits laced with hygromycin to mice can clear B. burgdorferi infections. In theory, dropping such baits could eradicate Lyme disease from whole areas or even entire countries. A field trial done a decade ago with doxycycline baits was successful, says Lewis. But the widespread use of the chemical for this purpose is undesirable because it could lead to many microbes evolving antibiotic resistance.

10-6-21 Microscopic tardigrade fossil found in 16-million-year-old amber
A new species of tardigrade – microscopic animals that resemble a cross between a pig and a bear – has been discovered in 16-million-year-old Dominican amber. Tardigrades – also known as water bears or moss piglets – are renowned for their hardiness. In 2007, some were sent into orbit and became the first known animals to survive the vacuum of space. Molecular studies suggest that tardigrades originated about 500 million years ago, but their microscopic size and tendency to rapidly decay after death makes their fossils hard to come by. Until recently, only two fossilised species had been found. But that was before sharp-eyed ant researchers detected an interesting speck in an otherwise insect-filled amber specimen mined in the Dominican Republic. Viewing the speck under a microscope, Phil Barden at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and his colleagues were surprised and excited to recognise the plump, barrel-like shape of the tardigrade and some of its four pairs of clawed feet. “In the case of tardigrades, it’s just their extreme sort of ancient nature of the group, coupled with the rarity of the fossils, that makes any physical evidence of their time on Earth really exciting,” says Barden. “They’re like a ghost lineage.” Barden’s team passed the specimen on to tardigrade experts at Harvard University, where Marc Mapalo investigated it under transmitted light and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Mapalo captured remarkable micrometre-level details of the 559-micrometre-long tardigrade and its characteristic claws, which are 20 to 30 times finer than a human hair, he says. He also noted that the animal has distinct differences in its tube-shaped mouth and swallowing structures compared with the two other recognised fossil species – the 78-million-year-old Beorn leggi, detected in Canadian amber in 1964, and the 92-million-year-old Milnesium swolenskyi, identified in amber from New Jersey in 2000.

10-6-21 Covid-19 news: ‘Covid toe’ may be side effect of immune response
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Study explains why virus may lead to skin condition on hands and feet. The skin condition known as “covid toe” may be a side effect of the immune system’s response to fighting off the virus, a study has found. The symptom results in chilblain-like inflammation and redness on the hands and feet, which can last for months at a time. It typically develops within a week to four weeks of being infected and can result in toes and fingers becoming swollen or changing colour. Researchers behind the study, which has been published in the British Journal of Dermatology, examined 50 participants with covid toes and 13 with similar chilblain lesions that arose before the pandemic. They found one mechanism behind both types of the condition involved the body generating an immune response with high levels of certain auto-antibodies, which mistakenly target and react with a person’s own cells and tissues as well as the invading virus. They also found a link with type I interferon, a key protein in the antiviral response. Cells lining blood vessels that supply the affected areas also appeared to play a critical role in the development of covid toes and chilblains. Covid toe was a common symptom in the early stages of the pandemic, but has been seen much more rarely after vaccination, a spokeswoman for the British Skin Foundation told BBC News. One in seven cancer patients globally had potentially life-saving operations postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Oncology. Researchers analysed data on more than 20,000 patients in 61 countries with 15 common cancers. During full lockdowns, 15 per cent of patients did not receive their planned operation for covid-related reasons, compared to 0.6 per cent during periods of “light restrictions”. The study authors called for plans to be put in place so that, in the event of another public health emergency, urgent surgeries can continue to take place. Covid passes will be required to enter nightclubs and certain large events in Wales after the Welsh Government won a tight vote in the Senedd yesterday. From 11 October, the rule will apply to adults attending indoor, non-seated events for more than 500 people, such as concerts or conventions, outdoor non-seated events for more than 4000 people and any setting or event with more than 10,000 people in attendance. The NHS Covid Pass must be used to show that someone is fully vaccinated or has had a negative lateral flow test result within the last 48 hours.

10-6-21 How will the UK’s Universal Credit cut affect the health of children?
Cuts to benefits this week in the UK are expected to push hundreds of thousands of children into poverty, and the effect this will have on their health is still unknown. While there is substantial evidence that poverty has long-lasting effects on health, we are only beginning to unpick the mechanisms of how this happens. Poverty is defined by the UK government as living in a household that makes less than 60 per cent of the country’s median annual income. The threshold is currently £17,994. Around 3.2 million children were below this line in 2020 – about 23 per cent of children in the country. The government’s weekly £20 top-up to Universal Credit payments, intended as a support measure during the pandemic, ends today and is expected to lead to a further 290,000 more children falling below the poverty line, according to the Legatum Institute think tank in London. “We know child poverty has a massive effect on health,” says David Taylor-Robinson at the University of Liverpool, UK. Research shows that poorer children in the UK are more likely to have asthma and obesity, and more likely to develop stomach cancer as adults. Food insecurity as a child has also been linked to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular and obstructive pulmonary disease later in life. There are also wide-reaching other effects, though. Children from poorer families are more likely to begin school with worse literacy skills and develop mental health conditions like anxiety and depression later in life. The poorest teenagers attend hospital accident and emergency departments 70 per cent more often than the richest, while children in the most deprived parts of England are four times more likely to be hit by a car than children in the wealthiest areas.

10-6-21 'Chief dragon' is UK's oldest meat-eating dinosaur
More than half a century after first being unearthed from a Welsh quarry, four small fossil fragments have finally been assigned to a new species of dinosaur. Researchers from London's Natural History Museum say Pendraig milnerae is the oldest meat-eating dinosaur ever discovered in the UK. It existed over 200 million years ago, their analysis suggests. The name Pendraig means "chief dragon" in Middle Welsh. The animal was very likely the apex, or top, predator in its environment. That said, it wasn't exactly a giant. Think of something chicken-sized with a very long tail. "It was a typical theropod; so, a meat-eating dinosaur that walked around on two legs, like T. rex or Velociraptor that you'll know from the movies, but much earlier in time," explained the NHM's Dr Stephan Spiekman. This is one of those classic fossil stories. Pendraig is described by just four, albeit beautifully preserved, bone pieces. A vertebra, elements of the pelvis and a femur. These items were originally pulled from a limestone quarry near Cowbridge in South Wales in the 1950s. Their interesting features were occasionally discussed within the NHM, but then the fossil material somehow got lost in the vast collections of the museum, mistakenly stored with crocodilian remains. Only recently were the bones recovered from the "wrong drawer" and recognised for their true significance. Pendraig is really ancient. It's late Triassic in age. It could be as much as 214 million years old, putting it close to the base of dinosaur emergence. Indeed, Pendraig would have been a fossil when the previously mentioned T. rex and Velociraptor were still strutting their stuff in the Cretaceous, just before the asteroid struck to wipe them both from the face of the Earth 66 million years ago. "We've only got these four fragments, but the preservation is fantastic. The fossil is completely three dimensional; it's undistorted," Dr Spiekman told BBC News. "What's so interesting and important here is that we're getting to see the very early stages of the evolution of the dinosaurs. These animals eventually came to dominate the Earth, but in the late Triassic they were only one of several groups of reptiles that were living on land."

10-5-21 Chicken-sized dinosaur found in Wales is UK's earliest known theropod
Fossils of a small meat-eating dinosaur discovered in a quarry near Cardiff offer the earliest evidence ever found in the UK of theropods, a hugely diverse groups of dinosaurs that includes T. rex, Velociraptor and all birds. This animal, which has been named Pendraig milnerae, lived between 200 and 215 million years ago, during the Late Triassic Epoch. It was unearthed in a quarry called Pant-y-ffynnon located north-west of Cardiff in the 1950s, but the fossil was lost for decades in the collections at the Natural History Museum in London. “You could look at it as like a chicken with a very long tail in terms of size,” says Stephan Spiekman at the Natural History Museum. “This animal is from the very early evolution of the dinosaurs, from a time period when dinosaurs were not yet the dominant group on land, but they were already diversifying.” When P. milnerae was alive, the region surrounding Cardiff was probably made up of a series of small tropical islands. It would probably have been one of the main predators on its island, which is why Spiekman and his colleagues thought the name Pendraig – meaning “chief dragon” in Middle Welsh – was suitable. The species name milnerae was chosen to honour Angela Milner, a palaeontologist who worked at the Natural History Museum for more than 30 years and who rediscovered the specimen in a drawer containing crocodile rather than dinosaur material. Milner died earlier this year. “It belongs to a group that was sort of nearly globally distributed, so it’s not a huge surprise to find one here, but at the same time it’s still nice to have one,” says Paul Upchurch at University College London. “Previously, there were only two of these elsewhere in Europe, so it’s a kind of geographic data point and fills in a gap in that sense.”

10-5-21 Sexual desire may be triggered by gentle touch sensors in your skin
The nerve endings in our skin that respond to soft stroking also send signals to the brain to arouse sexual desire under the right circumstances, according to studies in mice and people. Previous research shows that gentle touch feels good because it stimulates nerve receptors in the skin called C-tactile afferents. These respond to soft, slow stroking, and send signals to brain regions involved in emotion and pleasure. Gentle touch has been shown to play a role in numerous social relationships, including between parents and children. For example, babies’ heart rates slow when their parents gently stroke their forearms or shins with soft paintbrushes, suggesting they find it comforting. Now, Ishmail Abdus-Saboor at Columbia University in New York and his colleagues have shown that these nerves may also kindle sexual desire when partners touch. They genetically engineered mice so that nerves in their skin that behave like human C-tactile afferents could be activated by shining blue light on them, rather than by physically touching them. When they used blue light to artificially activate these nerves, they found that females arched their backs in a similar way to when they were preparing for sex. The mice also experienced a rush of dopamine in their nucleus accumbens, a pleasure centre in the brain. Female mice engineered to lack these nerves didn’t get the same dopamine rush when males tried to mount them for sex, and instead turned aggressive and tried to fight them off. This hints that these nerves convey messages to the brain to “encode a sensation that is necessary for the rewarding nature of sexual touch”, write the authors. “It’s a fantastic study,” says Håkan Olausson at Linköping University in Sweden, who was one of the first to discover C-tactile afferents in human skin in the 1990s. “We don’t understand much at all about the neural mechanisms of sexual behaviour, so this is an important finding.”

10-5-21 Why is New Zealand seemingly giving up on its zero-covid strategy?
New Zealand appears to be letting go of its zero-covid strategy as it confronts the difficulty of trying to contain the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant. From 6 October, it will start winding back restrictions in Auckland, where an outbreak of the virus has continued to grow in spite of a strict seven-week lockdown. Experts fear the move will lead to a spike in cases that will overwhelm the health system, since only just over 50 per cent of people in Auckland are fully vaccinated, but the government has come under public pressure to ease the gruelling restrictions. Early in the pandemic, New Zealand opted for an aggressive covid-19 elimination strategy, which meant banning international visitors and rapidly locking down whenever any cases were detected. This approach initially paid off – in early August 2021, the country celebrated a five-month stretch without a single locally acquired case. Then, on 17 August, a man in Auckland – New Zealand’s most populous city – tested positive for the delta variant. The city immediately locked down, meaning residents could only leave their homes for essential reasons, and schools and non-essential businesses were shut. Despite this swift response, the number of people infected has since grown to more than 1350. This is partly because the virus has taken hold in marginalised communities that find it harder to comply with the lockdown rules, says Michael Baker at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “Many have drug and alcohol dependencies, mental health issues and precarious living situations,” he says. Auckland’s situation reflects that of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, which also quickly went from having no covid-19 to large outbreaks after the delta variant arrived. On 4 October, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern conceded in a press conference that “a long period of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases” and said that the delta variant had felt like “a tentacle that has been incredibly hard to shake”.

10-5-21 Marble of ancient Greek statue traced to its likely origin
One of the great statues of antiquity has been connected to its likely birthplace by analysis of its marble. The Colossus of the Naxians on the Greek island of Delos once stood about 9 metres tall, but is now in pieces. One is at the British Museum in London, while the rest are in Greece. The statue’s name refers to the island of Naxos, which has been a major source of marble since the Greek archaic era from 800 BC to 480 BC – but it isn’t from either of two known quarries of that period. Instead, the marble has the chemical signature of a deposit in another part of the island, found by Scott Pike at Willamette University in Oregon. He will present his results at a meeting of the Geological Society of America on 11 October. His interest in the statue dates from the 1990s, when he tried to check the assertion carved on the base that it was made “of one marble”. The British Museum let him take a sample from the right foot, but permission from Greek authorities was difficult to come by. Pike compared the proportions of stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen in the marble to a database of known Greek quarries. “Marble is metamorphosed limestone,” he says. “The isotopic signature is related to how that limestone formed.” The data suggested the marble of the statue came from somewhere in the south of Naxos. Recently, Pike got permission to do a geological survey there, and he found a line of hills capped by marble not noted on geological maps. The isotopes in the marble are a good match for the statue. There was an abandoned quarry as well, but due to its size and the pattern of extractions, Pike doubts that it birthed the Colossus of the Naxians. Because he didn’t have a permit for archaeological sampling, he couldn’t date it. He plans to return with such a permit and a lidar-equipped drone to see if he can find other quarries or the roads and slipways used to transport finished statues.

10-5-21 Radiometric dating puts pieces of the past in context. Here’s how
When a researcher picks up an object — whether it’s a scrap of leather from a dig site, a fossil from a museum drawer or a newly fallen meteorite — their first question might be, “What is this thing?” A natural follow-up: “How old is it?” The first question is fundamental, no doubt. But the second is powerful, too. It helps place the object in its proper archaeological, geologic or cosmological context. “Without knowing the ages of things, there is no narrative,” says Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Up until a century or so ago, researchers studying rocks and the fossils they contain could answer the age question only vaguely if at all. Using guidelines established by geologists in the 1600s, they could gauge a rock’s age only in relative terms: For example, Sample A was considered older than Sample B if it came from a lower and presumed older layer of sediment or rock. But Earth is a dynamic place. Missing layers, as well as disturbances from earthquakes, landslides or other upheavals, meant even relative ages for rocks could be difficult to determine. Ditto for the bones, tools and other artifacts within the earth: Previous excavations, or even the day-to-day activities of a site’s ancient residents, could churn the soil and thus disrupt the layers. The discovery of radioactivity in the mid-1890s paved the way for scientists to ascertain the absolute ages of some objects, says Doug Macdougall, a geochemist formerly at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the author of Nature’s Clocks. Within less than a decade, he notes, several physicists had proposed methods for doing so. The methods are based on the finding that each type, or isotope, of a radioactive atom has its own particular half-life — the time that it takes for one-half of the atoms in a sample to decay. Because radioactive decay occurs in the nucleus of the atom, half-life doesn’t change with environmental conditions, from the hellish heat and crushing pressures deep inside Earth to the frigid realm of the far solar system. That makes radioactive isotopes wonderful clocks.Today, radiometric dating spans the ages, from recent times to the birth of our solar system. Carbon-14 dating is most suited to something that lived during the last 50,000 years or something made from such organisms — the wooden shafts of arrows, the leather in a moccasin or the plant fibers used to weave fabrics or baskets. Longer-lived isotopes of uranium and thorium can help peer deep into Earth’s past — back to when our planet’s first rocks were forming, or even further, to when our solar system was coalescing from gas and dust.

10-5-21 A custom brain implant lifted a woman’s severe depression
The experimental device brought relief from her mood disorder for at least two months. A personalized brain implant eased the crushing symptoms of a woman’s severe depression, allowing her to once again see the beauty of the world. “It’s like my lens on the world changed,” said Sarah, the research volunteer who requested to be identified by her first name only. The technology, described October 4 in Nature Medicine, brings researchers closer to understanding how to detect and change brain activity in ultraprecise ways (SN: 2/10/19). The device was bespoke; it was built specifically for Sarah’s brain. The details of the new system may not work as a treatment for many other people, says Alik Widge, a psychiatrist and neural engineer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Still, the research is “a really significant piece of work,” he says, because it points out a way to study how brain activity goes awry in depression. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco implanted temporary thin wire electrodes into Sarah’s brain. The 36-year-old woman had suffered from severe depression for years. These electrodes allowed researchers to monitor the brain activity that corresponded to Sarah’s depression symptoms — a pattern that the researchers could use as a biomarker, a signpost of trouble to come. In Sarah’s case, a particular sign emerged: a fast brain wave called a gamma wave in her amygdala, a brain structure known to be involved in emotions. With this biomarker in hand, the researchers then figured out where to stimulate the brain to interrupt Sarah’s distressing symptoms. A region called the ventral capsule/ventral striatum, or VC/VS, seemed to be the key. That’s not surprising; previous research suggests the region is involved with feeling good and other emotions. When researchers applied tiny jolts of electrical current to this region, Sarah’s mood improved. “We could learn the road map of Sarah’s brain in a way that we could really improve her depression symptoms,” Katherine Scangos of UCSF said in a Sept. 30 news briefing.

10-4-21 Woman’s depression treated by an implant responding to brain patterns
A woman who had severe depression has successfully been using a radical new treatment, which involves putting electrodes deep into the brain, for one year. “Everything has gotten easier and easier,” says Sarah, who is the first to trial the new technique and asked not to use her full name. For now, the treatment is likely to be used only in people with the most severe depression, as it involves two brain surgeries as well as days of recording the brain’s electrical signals to work out a pattern of activity, or “neural biomarker”, for each individual’s symptoms. “These results provide hope that a much-needed personalised, biomarker-based treatment for psychiatric disorders is possible,” says Katherine Scangos at the University of California, San Francisco. Crucially, the implant fires only when needed, a few hundred times a day, whenever a specific pattern of brain activity is detected. A simpler form of brain stimulation, in which the device is always on, is already used in the movement disorder Parkinson’s disease, where the brain areas involved are relatively well understood. Such continuous brain stimulation has been tried before in depression, but the results from trials have been mixed, perhaps because the brain circuitry responsible is unclear and may vary from person to person. When trying to help Sarah, Scangos’s team started by recording the electrical activity from 10 different parts of her brain while she reported on her mood, over 10 days. Sarah had experienced depression since childhood that couldn’t be helped by many different drug treatments and electroconvulsive therapy. Before the surgery, she was experiencing suicidal thoughts several times an hour. The investigation found that when Sarah’s symptoms were at their worst, there was a characteristic pattern of activity known as gamma brainwaves in her amygdalae, two small structures deep in the brain that have previously been linked with emotions.

10-4-21 Lubricating arthritic knees with synthetic fluid may help tissue heal
Painful arthritic knees could be treated by injections of a lubricating fluid that mimics a natural version found in joints. The fluid allows the damaged joints to repair themselves and has been shown to boost cartilage regeneration in rats. Osteoarthritis, a result of wear and tear as people get older, involves damage to cartilage, a rubbery tissue that caps the ends of bones. Scans of arthritic knees can show bits of cartilage inside the joint that have broken off from the main cartilage tissue. This increases friction inside the joint, leading to a feedback loop that accelerates the damage, says Chuanbin Mao at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. People can have surgery to remove the debris and smooth remaining cartilage, but this doesn’t work very well. Some experimental approaches involve injecting stem cells, often taken from the person’s blood or fat. Mao and his team focused instead on synovial fluid, the liquid inside joints. Healthy joint fluid contains a large molecule called a lubrication complex, comprised of a backbone of hyaluronic acid that bears feathery subunits called lubricin, as well as lipid subunits. The feathery subunits bind to water molecules, while the entire lubrication complex binds to cartilage. This creates a watery layer on top of the cartilage, which reduces friction during joint movement. Mao and his colleagues created an artificial version of the lubrication complex by binding another feathery molecule called PAMPS and a lipid substitute to the same hyaluronic acid backbone. When applied to pieces of human cartilage, this reduced friction in lab tests. The researchers also injected the substance into rats with early arthritis in their leg joints. After eight weeks, the rats’ joints looked close to normal when viewed under the microscope, as gauged by a commonly used arthritis-grading scale. The cartilage seemed to have regrown, says Mao. “We found that lubrication can help tissue regeneration – that’s something new.” Next, the team will try out the artificial fluid on larger animals with joints that are more similar to those of people.

10-4-21 People reached remote Atlantic islands 700 years earlier than thought
One of history’s greatest journeys has been uncovered. People arrived on the islands of the Azores, in the central Atlantic, about 700 years earlier than thought. “We can clearly identify evidence of early human impact on the islands before the official colonisation by the Portuguese,” says Pedro Raposeiro at the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources in Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island in the Azores. It isn’t certain who the first colonists were, but there is evidence that it was the Norse, ancestors of many modern Scandinavians – who also reached America. The Azores is an archipelago about 1400 kilometres from the west coast of Europe with nine major islands. It is an autonomous region of Portugal, as Portuguese people colonised the area in the 1400s. The islands were known to Europeans a century before, but it was thought that nobody had previously lived there. A team has spent a decade obtaining sediment cores from lakes on five of the islands. Such cores contain clues to past environments: pollen reveals which plants grew, and chemicals from faeces reveal which animals were present. The researchers claim they have clear evidence that people were present between 700 and 850 AD. “The paper in fact summarises 10 years of really hard work,” says Santiago Giralt at Geosciences Barcelona in Spain. The evidence doesn’t come from archaeological remains like pottery because there are virtually none, says Raposeiro. Instead, the sediment cores held two kinds of traces of human presence. The team found chemicals called stigmastanols and coprostanols, which are only found in the faeces of large herbivorous or omnivorous mammals. “The islands were completely devoid of large mammals [prior to human settlement],” says Giralt, so these chemicals can only have come from humans or animals they brought with them. The team also found evidence of landscape changes. Tree pollen became rarer, suggesting people were cutting down trees – and soil run-off into the lakes increased at the same time.

10-4-21 Medicine Nobel awarded for explaining how we sense heat and touch
The 2021 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine has been awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for discovering how cells detect temperature and touch. “This really unlocks one of the secrets of nature,” said the secretary of the Nobel committee, Thomas Perlmann. “It explains at a molecular level how these stimuli can be converted into nerve signals. It is something that is crucial for our survival.” The ability to sense heat and mechanical pressure is vital for everything from avoiding getting burned to knowing when we need to urinate, but until recently we didn’t know exactly how nerve cells detect heat and touch. To discover how nerve cells detect heat, David Julius at the University of California, San Francisco, exploited the fact that capsaicin in chillies activates heat receptors. In the 1990s, his team took the DNA of genes known to be active in sensory cells and added fragments to cells that don’t normally respond to capsaicin. By trying out thousands of different fragments to see which enabled the cells to make the receptor and respond to capsaicin, they identified a protein now called TRPV1 that codes for an ion channel that sits in the cell membrane of nerves. Higher temperatures open the ion channel, leading to a change in voltage that makes the nerve fire and thus provides the sensation of heat. Teams led by Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, then independently discovered a similar ion channel called TRPM8 that opens in response to cold rather than heat. Both teams exploited the fact that menthol triggers these cold receptors. Several similar ion channels have since been discovered, allowing a range of different temperatures to be sensed. To identify touch receptors, Patapoutian’s team used cells that produce an electrical signal when poked. The team also identified 270 genes that might code for touch receptor proteins. The researchers switched off these genes in the cells one by one.

10-4-21 Discovering how we sense temperature and touch wins the 2021 medicine Nobel Prize
David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian found nerve cell sensors for heat, cold, pain and pressure. Some touching research took the 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. David Julius of the University of California, San Francisco and Ardem Patapoutian of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., were awarded the prize October 4 for their research to identify sensors on nerve cells that detect heat, cold and pressure. The laureates discovered proteins called receptors that turn the burning heat from chili peppers or a hot stove, menthol’s cooling sensation or the pressure from a hug into nerve signals that can be sent to the brain. Those proteins are crucial to the sense of touch and for feeling pain. Recognizing basic research on touch is important because “it’s such an elemental function of the nervous system, which is how we react with our environment,” says Walter Koroshetz, director of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. The temperature sensors warn of danger from fire or extreme cold, said Abdel El Manira, a neuroscientist and a member of the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute, which awards the physiology or medicine prize. Touch receptors are important for feeling where our body parts are in space. “Without them, we would not be able to stand. We would not be able to touch or feel our surroundings,” El Manira said. “Over the last year, we’ve been social distancing from one another. We have missed the sense of touch, the sense of the warmth we get from one another like during a hug.” Scientists had been searching for touch and temperature receptors for many years before Julius and Patapoutian began their work, Koroshetz said. “Everybody knew [the receptors] were there, but nobody could find them,” he says. Then the two laureates came up with some clever ways to probe for the elusive proteins.

10-4-21 Sense of touch and heat research wins Nobel Prize
Scientists who discovered how our bodies feel the warmth of the sun or the hug of a loved one have won the Nobel Prize. David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, from the US, share the 2021 prize in Medicine or Physiology for their work on sensing touch and temperature. They unpicked how our bodies convert physical sensations into electrical messages in the nervous system. Their findings could lead to new ways of treating pain. Heat, cold and touch are crucial for experiencing the world around us and for our own survival. But how our bodies actually do it had been one of the great mysteries of biology. Thomas Perlman, from the Nobel Prize Committee, said: "It was a very important and profound discovery." Prof David Julius's breakthrough, at the University of California, San Francisco, came from investigating the burning pain we feel from eating a hot chilli pepper. He experimented with the source of a chilli's heat - the chemical capsaicin. He discovered the specific type of receptor (a part of our cells that detects the world around them) that responded to capsaicin. Further tests showed the receptor was responding to heat and kicked in at "painful" temperatures. This is what happens, for example, if you burn your hand on a cup of coffee. The discovery led to a flurry of other temperature-sensors being discovered. Prof Julius and Prof Ardem Patapoutian found one that could detect cold. Meanwhile, Prof Patapoutian, working at the Scripps Research institute, was also poking cells in a dish. Those experiments led to the discovery of a different type of receptor that was activated in response to mechanical force or touch. When you walk along a beach and feel the sand under your feet - it is these receptors that are sending signals to the brain. These touch and temperature sensors have since been shown to have a wide role in the body and in some diseases. The first heat sensor (called TRPV1) is also involved in chronic pain and how our body regulates its core temperature. The touch receptor (PIEZ02) has multiple roles, from urinating to blood pressure.

10-4-21 Nobel Prize awarded to scientists for discovery that 'unlocks one of the secrets of nature'
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two scientists for their "discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch," the Nobel Committee has announced. Scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize on Monday after they conducted research into how humans sense temperature and touch, Stat News reports. "Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us," the Nobel Committee said. "In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year's Nobel Prize laureates." Julius, the Nobel Committee explained, used a compound found in chili peppers to identify a sensor in the skin's nerve endings that responds to heat, while Patapoutian discovered sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and in internal organs. Their "breakthrough" discoveries led to a "rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli," according to the Monday announcement. Thomas Perlmann, the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee, called this a "very important and profound discovery," which "really unlocks one of the secrets of nature." The Nobel Committee noted that the question of how temperature and mechanical stimuli are "converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system" had not been solved prior to Julius' and Patapoutian's work. But Oscar Marin, director of King's College London's MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, told The Associated Press the discovery opens up an "an entire field of pharmacology," explaining, "Knowing how our body senses these changes is fundamental because once we know those molecules, they can be targeted." Following this announcement, the Nobel Prize in Physics is the next prize that is set to be awarded on Tuesday.

10-1-21 50 years ago, X-rays revealed what ancient Egyptians kept under wraps
Excerpt from the October 9, 1971 issue of Science News. The 29 mummies of pharaohs and queens were examined without disturbing their present positions.… [Researchers using portable X-ray equipment] found evidence of rheumatoid inflammation of the vertebrae of Amenophis II, ruler of Egypt from 1436 to 1413 B.C…. [A queen] was buried with what was thought to be her mummified infant. But radiography of the object confirmed its identification as a mummified adolescent baboon. Scientists now investigate Egyptian mummies with advanced imaging devices that were unavailable in 1971. Micro-CT scans and virtual reality models have provided detailed life history and embalming information about three animal mummies — a cat, a bird and a snake (SN: 9/12/20, p. 17). 3-D printing has enabled scientists to reconstruct the vocal tract and simulate the voice of a 3,000-year-old mummified priest (SN: 2/15/20, p. 14). And infrared scanners have revealed tattoos on seven mummies dating to about 3,000 years ago (SN: 12/21/19 & 1/4/20, p. 8).

106 Evolution News Articles
for October 2021

Evolution News Articles for September 2021