Evolution and Global Warming are facts, not theories!

Hand Evolution by Megan Godtland

Science and Reason, use them to guide your life.

Microwave Earth by Megan Godtland

2019 Science Stats

95 Evolution News Articles
for April 2022
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

Nature cares only that you reproduce and raise the kids.
After you've done that, get out of the way.

4-30-22 Child hepatitis cases falsely linked to Covid vaccine
Social media posts have falsely linked a recent spike in unexplained hepatitis in children to the Covid vaccine. The affected children were mostly under the age of five and therefore not eligible for the jab, health agencies monitoring the situation say. But this hasn't stopped the claims - and other theories around lockdown or sending children back to school - being promoted as fact. So what are the established facts of the cases so far? As of 21 April 2022, the World Health Organization had recorded at least 169 cases of unexplained hepatitis - inflammation of the liver - in children in 11 countries since January. Of these, 114 were in the UK. None of the five specific viruses (labelled A - E) which usually cause hepatitis was found, but the majority of youngsters tested did show up positive for a particular adenovirus - a common family of infections responsible for illnesses from colds to eye infections. The specific one they had causes stomach bugs. Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said their investigations "increasingly" suggested the rise was linked to adenovirus infection. "However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes," she said. The UKHSA says the Covid vaccine is the one thing they can definitively rule out - because none of the children affected had received the jab. Nevertheless, on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and Telegram, the BBC has found false claims that these hepatitis cases were caused by the Covid vaccine. One post on Reddit highlighted the fact that an adenovirus is used in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccines. The adenoviruses used in the vaccines are harmless transporters which have been modified so they cannot replicate or cause infection. Not only are they completely different adenoviruses to the ones found in the affected children, but these vaccines are largely being restricted to use in people aged 40 and over in the UK.

4-27-22 We are told “eat your greens”, but are these essential for our diet?
We know eating plants is good for us. In fact, the more the merrier. The ideal number for good health and our gut microbes is 30 different plants per week. This isn’t as hard as it seems because this total includes nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, beans, whole grains and many other plants that aren’t green and yet confer health benefits. But why eat your greens above all else? Plants get their colour from a range of chemicals that help them thrive and survive. These polyphenols, such as the red and blue anthocyanins, green chlorogenic acid and yellow quercetin, are also the compounds that we need to stay healthy. There are hundreds of different polyphenols in brassica vegetables such as kale, broccoli, rocket and cabbage. All of them have different beneficial impacts on our health thanks to their powerful effect on our gut microbiome. This community of microbes that lives in our large intestine uses polyphenols to make helpful chemicals known as postbiotics that affect everything from our immune response to our mental health. Decades of evidence shows that increased green leafy vegetable intake is associated with improved health outcomes: from reduced cancer risk to improved cognitive health, a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and better outcomes for pregnancy. All of this is thanks to the polyphenols and other nutrients that are found specifically in the colourful green leaves, in addition to another key ingredient that also feeds our gut microbes: fibre. As well as being high in fibre and polyphenols, greens are low in a form of carbohydrate called starch. Unlike potatoes, carrots, corn and beetroot, which have enough starch in them to cause a spike in blood glucose levels and alter our glucose metabolism and hunger, greens don’t have this effect and so can be enjoyed freely. What’s more, as I discuss in Spoon-Fed, there are leafy greens in season all year round.

4-29-22 Mom’s voice holds a special place in kids’ brains. That changes for teens
As children grow up, voices of unfamiliar people become more interesting. Young kids’ brains are especially tuned to their mothers’ voices. Teenagers’ brains, in their typical rebellious glory, are most decidedly not. That conclusion, described April 28 in the Journal of Neuroscience, may seem laughably obvious to parents of teenagers, including neuroscientist Daniel Abrams of Stanford University School of Medicine. “I have two teenaged boys myself, and it’s a kind of funny result,” he says. But the finding may reflect something much deeper than a punch line. As kids grow up and expand their social connections beyond their family, their brains need to be attuned to that growing world. “Just as an infant is tuned into a mom, adolescents have this whole other class of sounds and voices that they need to tune into,” Abrams says. He and his colleagues scanned the brains of 7- to 16-year-olds as they heard the voices of either their mothers or unfamiliar women. To simplify the experiment down to just the sound of a voice, the words were gibberish: teebudieshawlt, keebudieshawlt and peebudieshawlt. As the children and teenagers listened, certain parts of their brains became active. Previous experiments by Abrams and his colleagues have shown that certain regions of the brains of kids ages 7 to 12 — particularly those parts involved in detecting rewards and paying attention — respond more strongly to mom’s voice than to a voice of an unknown woman. “In adolescence, we show the exact opposite of that,” Abrams says. In these same brain regions in teens, unfamiliar voices elicited greater responses than the voices of their own dear mothers. The shift from mother to other seems to happen between ages 13 and 14. It’s not that these adolescent brain areas stop responding to mom, Abrams says. Rather, the unfamiliar voices become more rewarding and worthy of attention.

4-29-22 How I decided on a second COVID-19 booster shot
Data on boosters’ effectiveness and immune system influence factored into my choice. Booster shots against COVID-19 are once again on my mind. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that older people and immunocompromised people are eligible for a second booster shot provided it has been at least four months since their last shot. After I got over the shock of the FDA calling me “older” — meaning anyone 50 and up — I’ve been pondering whether to get a second booster (otherwise known as a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine, or third dose of any vaccine if you initially got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), and if so, when. Peter, a 60-year-old acquaintance who asked me not to use his last name to protect his privacy, told me he’s going to get a second booster, but not now. He’s holding out for fall and hoping for a variant-specific version of the vaccine. Right now, he and his wife “are vaxxed out,” he says. And he worries that getting boosted too often could hurt his immune system’s ability to respond to new variants. “I just think it’s the law of diminishing returns,” he says. Lots of scientists and policy makers are thinking about these issues, too. For instance, last week an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met to discuss boosters. And a bevy of studies about how well boosters work and how they affect the immune system have come out in recent weeks, some of them peer-reviewed, some still preliminary. n making my own decision, I wanted to know several things. First, does a second booster really provide additional protection from the coronavirus beyond what I got from my first booster (SN: 11/8/21)? Second, are there downsides to getting boosted again? And finally, if I’m going to do it, when should that be and which vaccine will I get?

4-29-22 Pterosaurs may have had brightly colored feathers on their heads
Flying reptiles used the fuzz to keep warm and attract mates, a study suggests. Pterosaurs not only had feathers, but also were flamboyantly colorful, scientists say. That could mean that feathers — and vibrant displays of mate-seeking plumage — may have originated as far back as the common ancestor of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, during the early Triassic Period around 250 million years ago. Analyses of the partial skull of a 113-million-year-old pterosaur fossil revealed that the flying reptile had two types of feathers, paleontologist Aude Cincotta of University College Cork in Ireland and colleagues report April 20 in Nature. On its head, the creature, thought to be Tupandactylus imperator, had whiskerlike, single filaments and more complicated branching structures akin to those of modern bird feathers. Because the fossil’s soft tissues were also well-preserved, the team identified a variety of different shapes of pigment-bearing melanosomes in both feathers and skin. Those shapes ranged from “very elongate cigar shapes to flattened platelike disks,” says Maria McNamara, a paleobiologist also at University College Cork. Different melanosome shapes have been linked to different colors. Short, stubby spheroidal melanosomes are usually associated with yellow to reddish-brown colors, while the longer shapes are linked to darker colors, McNamara says. The range of melanosome geometries found in this Tupandactylus specimen suggests that the creature may have been quite colorful, the team says. And that riot of color, in turn, hints that the feathers weren’t there just to keep the creatures warm, but may have been used for visual signaling, such as displays to attract a mate. Scientists have wrangled over whether pterosaurs, Earth’s first true vertebrate flyers, had true feathers, or whether their bodies were covered in something more primitive and hairlike, dubbed “pycnofibers” (SN: 7/22/21). If the flying reptiles did have feathers, they weren’t needed for flying; pterosaurs had fibrous membranes stretched between their long, tapering wings, much like modern bats (SN: 10/22/20).

4-29-22 Joggers naturally pace themselves to conserve energy even on short runs
Data from fitness trackers and treadmill tests challenge ideas about what drives speed. For many recreational runners, taking a jog is a fun way to stay fit and burn calories. But it turns out an individual has a tendency to settle into the same, comfortable pace on short and long runs — and that pace is the one that minimizes their body’s energy use over a given distance. “I was really surprised,” says Jessica Selinger, a biomechanist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. “Intuitively, I would have thought people run faster at shorter distances and slow their pace at longer distances.” Selinger and colleagues combined data from more than 4,600 runners, who went on 37,201 runs while wearing a fitness device called the Lumo Run, with lab-based physiology data. The analysis, described April 28 in Current Biology, also shows that it takes more energy for someone to run a given distance if they run faster or slower than their optimum speed. “There is a speed that for you is going to feel the best,” Selinger says. “That speed is the one where you’re actually burning fewer calories.” The runners ranged in age from 16 to 83, and had body mass indices spanning from 14.3 to 45.4. But no matter participants’ age, weight or sex — or whether they ran only a narrow range of distances or runs of varying lengths — the same pattern showed up in the data repeatedly. Researchers have thought that running was performance-driven, says Melissa Thompson, a biomechanist at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., who was not involved in the new study. This new research, she says, is “talking about preference, not performance.” Most related research, Selinger says, has been done in university laboratories, with study subjects who are generally younger and healthier than the general population. By using wearable devices, the researchers could track many more runs, across more real-life conditions than is possible in a lab. That allowed the scientists to look at a “much broader cross section of humanity,” she says. Treadmill tests measuring energy use at different paces with people representative of those included in the fitness tracker data were used to determine optimum energy-efficient speeds.

4-28-22 People instinctively run at their most energy-efficient speed
Findings from people running in the lab and in the real world show that men and women tend to run at a speed that minimises energetic costs, though men run faster. When people are exercising, they intuitively maintain the same running speed regardless of how many kilometres they cover, in order to be as energy efficient as possible. In a race, people try to run as fast as they can for a given distance, which means someone might jog slowly during a marathon, but sprint at top speed during a 100-metre event. But Jessica Selinger at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, and her colleagues found that recreational runners take a different approach. They analysed the running speeds over a variety of distances of more than 4645 runners, who wore wearable measurement devices during exercise outside. They also collected data in the lab, where they could use treadmills to control a runner’s speed while collecting and analysing the participant’s breath to establish the energy costs associated with running at each pace. From the outdoor runners, Selinger and her team found that, on average, women run at a speed of 2.74 metres per second while men run at 3.25 metres per second. The data collected in the lab showed that these paces are indistinguishable from the energy-optimal running speeds for men and women. “People have this strong preference for a particular speed, regardless of what distance they’re running,” says Selinger. “And that speed is in fact energy optimal. It’s the speed that’s the most economical that you could choose.” The runners that Selinger and her team analysed in the lab were limited to younger, fit individuals. “In the future, it would be really nice to have the lab-based energetic measures for a broader swathe of the population,” says Selinger.

4-28-22 We may know why some childhood cancers resolve on their own
Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer that can go into remission on its own. Now, researchers have identified a possible reason why and used the underlying mechanism to treat tumours in mice. Certain types of neuroblastoma, a nervous system cancer mostly found in children, have cells that rely on an amino acid to evade the immune system’s attempts to destroy them. Suppressing the production of this amino acid in mice led to a reduction in tumour sizes and remission of the cancer — a technique that could be used in future human trials. Andrés Flórez at Harvard University and Hamed Alborzinia at the German Cancer Research Center analysed cultured tumour cells of a particularly aggressive type of neuroblastoma. This form has abnormal expressions of the gene MYCN, which causes cells to consume large amounts of iron. This mineral is necessary for cell growth and proliferation, but, in excess, it can damage cell membranes and induce cell death – a process known as ferroptosis. Flórez and his colleagues found that these neuroblastoma cells evaded the process with the help of an amino acid called cysteine. “Cysteine actually protects the cells from all this damage, and when we take it out of the cells, they become extremely sensitive to ferroptosis,” says Flórez. “The cells died massively, but only the cells that had this gene MYCN.” Mice treated with two drugs that suppress the production of cysteine had a 60 per cent reduction in tumour growth compared with a control group that was given no treatment. The group given the drugs also had no apparent side effects. By pairing this drug cocktail with a third intervention targeting a gene responsible for cell membrane repair, the team saw complete tumour remission after 14 days in 10 out of 12 mice and significant reductions in tumour size in the other two.

4-28-22 Plesiosaurs evolved awkward long necks thanks to their big bodies
An ultra-long neck would seem to put aquatic plesiosaurs at a disadvantage, but it turns out their big bodies helped avoid drag while swimming. Plesiosaurs had some of the most extreme necks to have ever evolved, with some species, such as Albertonectes vanderveldei, boasting 7-metre-long appendages made up of 76 vertebrae. But an ultra-long neck seems difficult for aquatic creatures like plesiosaurs to evolve, as they could hamper the ability to swim, so how did they arise? Big bodies made all the difference, according to a new analysis. Susana Gutarra Díaz at the University of Bristol, UK, and her colleagues examines the body shapes of plesiosaurs and other marine reptiles through the lens of computational fluid dynamics. Some appear to have been more streamlined, such as the shark-like ichthyosaurs, while plesiosaurs were much more variable in shape and size. “Until now, it was not very clear how this great diversity of shapes and sizes affected the energy demands of swimming in these marine animals,” says Gutarra Díaz. The researchers found that body size had a major influence on possible shapes for marine reptiles. While the large plimbs and long necks of many plesiosaurs created a significant amount of drag, bigger bodies and larger torsos lowered the energetic cost of moving through water. This is because drag is created by the friction between water and an animal’s skin, and as bodies get larger, the ratio of surface area to mass is reduced. “Large animals have a greater drag in absolute terms,” says Gutarra Díaz. “But the power they need to invest to move a unit of body mass is smaller.” While there may be other factors to take into account, this kind of analysis is the best way to explain constraints and body plan limits among extinct organisms, says José O’Gorman at the La Plata Museum in Argentina.

4-28-22 Your brain may have a warning system that suppresses unwanted thoughts
Researchers have identified a signal in the brain that may suppress unwanted memories, which could lead to treatments for OCD, anxiety and depression. Humans may have a warning system in the brain that helps suppress unwanted thoughts. Having a better understanding of how this system works could one day lead to treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or PTSD. Michael Anderson at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analysed the brain scans of 24 Chinese-speaking people as they completed a memory suppression task. The researchers asked them to memorise 48 pairs of Chinese words. Each person then had electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes attached to their head and was put into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. “We wanted to analyse the participants’ brains in two ways simultaneously because fMRI is really good at telling you where things are happening in the brain, but it’s no good at telling you about the timing of brain activity, whereas EEG is really good at that,” says Anderson. A screen displayed the words the participants had memorised, one at a time, alongside either a green, red or no light. When the green light was shown, they were instructed to think about the word it had initially been paired with. A red light indicated they should try not to recall the paired word. No action was required for words that appeared with no light. Each word pair was repeated 12 times in a random order and was always shown with the same – or no – coloured light. About 350 milliseconds after participants saw a red light, a brain region known for managing attention, called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, sent a signal to an area of the brain involved in working memory, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

4-27-22 We need to stop political spin from polluting public trust in science
Keeping science and politics socially distanced from each other is the best way to ensure government spin doesn’t damage trust in the former, says Fiona Fox. WHEN the BSE crisis deepened in the 1990s, John Gummer, then minister of agriculture, invited the press to photograph him trying to feed a beefburger to his 4-year-old daughter, claiming that scientists had advised it was perfectly safe to eat the meat. In fact, they had said there was a low but “theoretical” risk of getting BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a neurological disease of cattle. But this more nuanced take didn’t reach the UK public at the time because the scientists giving it were hidden from view, just as they were during later crises, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in Iceland or the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Gummer was glossing over the scientific uncertainties to deliver a clear “message” that was convenient for the UK beef trade. As a result, the public were misled and trust in science suffered. To avoid this in the future, there needs to be a clearer separation between science communication and government communication, so the public can hear science directly from those doing it. One of the few positives in the pandemic was seeing so many leading scientists on our TV screens. While the UK prime minister Boris Johnson used the Downing Street press conferences to deliver key policy decisions and “messaging”, he was flanked by chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty who summarised new data and answered media and public questions on the science. This was science communication at its best when most needed and it was a hit with the public. Trust in scientists topped 90 per cent at times as the pandemic unfolded.

4-28-22 Hepatitis: Adenovirus is prime suspect in mystery outbreak in childrent
It is still unclear what is behind a worrying surge in cases of liver disease among young children in several countries, but a lack of social mixing during lockdowns could be a factor. Doctors in the UK are investigating whether an adenovirus is behind an unexplained outbreak of liver disease in young children, as case numbers rise in countries including the UK, the US and Israel. So far, there have been 169 identified cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in 11 countries. Some have been quick to blame the outbreak on either covid-19, its vaccines or lockdowns. But in the UK, which has had the largest number of identified cases, doctors said on 25 April that the cause is still unknown. Their leading hypothesis is that the culprit is a usually mild adenovirus, a common infection in children, along with a second undetermined factor. By 20 April, there had been 111 cases of hepatitis in the UK of unknown cause in under-16s, mostly in children under 5. The covid-19 vaccine can’t be responsible as it isn’t offered to this youngest age group in the UK. The condition has been striking children without underlying health conditions. Most of those affected have recovered, but 10 children in the UK needed a liver transplant and so will have to take drugs that suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives. The leading suspect at the moment is an adenovirus called 41F, which usually causes nausea, diarrhoea and fever. Some kind of adenovirus was found in 40 out of 53 cases who were tested for it in England. Out of 11 cases where adenovirus was detected in the blood and could be identified, all were the 41F type. What could the unknown second factor be? “It must be in some way linked to the pandemic,” says Deirdre Kelly at the University of Birmingham, UK. Of the 60 children with hepatitis who were tested for the coronavirus on arrival at hospital, 10 were positive, a rate of about 17 per cent.

4-28-22 Working from home could have a dystopian future if staff aren't valued
Remote working might sound enticing, but a two-tier system is emerging, in which it is valued less by employers. This division is only set to grow, says Annalee Newitz. HERE in the US, stay-at-home orders evaporated long ago, and many companies are demanding that workers return to the office. Yet we are still being inundated with news about people who are lucky enough to continue working remotely. Books, articles and software packages promise to help us navigate a new era of “hybrid offices”. It sounds enticing. No more commutes and foul office smells! But the future of working from home may be a lot darker than anyone realises. I am not worried about what is going to happen to remote working over the next year or two. Many white-collar workers and techies have been doing it for years now – I haven’t had a job that requires me to go into the office for nearly 15 years. In the noughties, I communicated with colleagues via group chat apps and email lists; in the teens, we used Campfire and Slack. Now we use Zoom and other video chat systems. The only thing that has changed since the pandemic is that my outlier experience has become the norm for certain groups of workers. Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, Square and Slack have all announced that they will allow employees to work from home permanently. But for all their talk of boosting productivity and creating a better work-life balance, the move to hybrid work can come with a cost – literally. Facebook and Twitter will pay less for certain work-at-home staff, and Google could slash their salaries by up to 25 per cent. Along with such pay cuts comes a new generation of home surveillance software, which tracks employees’ online activities, while sometimes using live video feeds to measure how long they sit at their desks. And you can forget about organising a union in a virtual workplace where every private message you send can be read by your boss.

4-28-22 Ichthyosaur tooth from the Swiss Alps is largest ever discovered
An ichthyosaur tooth fossil with a root 6 centimetres wide is so large that it may mean that the marine reptiles were even larger than we previously thought. Around 200 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the land, pterosaurs took to the sky and ichthyosaurs dominated the sea. The marine reptiles were fearsome predators, with individuals ranging from the size of a small porpoise to a massive sperm whale. Now, palaeontologists have discovered the largest ichthyosaur tooth to date, suggesting these creatures were even bigger than previously thought. Ichthyosaurs were adept hunters and swimmers that conquered nearly every aquatic corner of the globe. During their heyday of the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods, they took many forms, including both toothed and toothless species. A single giant black tooth and a collection of vertebrae and ribs from the Swiss Alps account for just a handful of known ichthyosaur specimens that have been found around the world. Martin Sander at the University of Bonn in Germany first saw the sets of fossils when they were unearthed more than 30 years ago, but because new, seemingly better-quality ichthyosaur fossils were being found in British Columbia, they shelved the specimens. When Sander and his colleague Heinz Furrer at the University of Zurich in Switzerland decided to take another look at the fossils, they realised they had evidence of three of the largest ichthyosaurs to date. Since the age of the ichthyosaurs, the planet has undergone a dramatic tectonic change, transforming what was once a shallow sea floor into jagged, rocky mountains known as the Kössen Formation. That shift transported the remains of the marine reptiles to an altitude of 2800 metres above sea level. The crown jewel of their discovery is an ichthyosaur tooth with a root around 6 centimetres wide, which Sander says is the largest known specimen “by far”. While palaeontologists only have the bottom portion of the tooth, “these big roots usually mean there is a big crown”, says Sander. Vertebrae and rib fragments from one of the other individuals suggest that the reptile was around 20 metres in length – stretching longer than a bowling lane.

4-28-22 50 years ago, scientists were seeking the cause of psoriasis
Excerpt from the April 29, 1972 issue of Science News. A team of dermatologists] discovered that cyclic AMP levels in psoriasis lesions are significantly lower than in healthy skin.… [The team] is now trying to find out if the cyclic AMP deficiency causes psoriasis and to develop a medication to increase cyclic AMP levels in psoriasis lesions. Psoriasis, which affects 2 to 3 percent of the global population, is an inflammatory skin disease marked by red, scaly patches that itch or burn. Low levels of cyclic AMP — a chemical messenger key to cellular communication — haven’t been found to cause the disease. Psoriasis stems from an overactive immune response. Cyclic AMP is just one player alongside other chemical messengers and immune cells, and certain gene variants can make a person more susceptible. The choice among a range of treatment options today depends in part on the severity of the disease and the areas of the body affected. One drug, called apremilast, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014, increases levels of cyclic AMP, among other actions.

4-27-22 Growing younger: Radical insights into ageing could help us reverse it
New insight into how we age suggests it may be driven by a failure to switch off the forces that build our bodies. If true, it could lead to a deeper understanding of ageing – and the possibility of slowing it. IT WAS as if someone had turned back time. Once-faltering paws gripped objects with renewed strength. Hearts and livers regained their youthful vitality. Fuzzy memories sharpened. And according to Steve Horvath’s experiments, the biological age of his rats had been cut in half. “I was stunned,” he says. Horvath, an anti-ageing researcher at the University of Los Angeles, California, saw these startling effects in 2020 after injecting old rats with blood extract from younger rodents. And he isn’t alone. A growing number of labs are reporting findings that indicate we might have been thinking about ageing the wrong way. Rather than the result of the accumulation of wear and tear as time ticks by, ageing could be driven by the forces that build our bodies in the uterus and maintain them after we are born. In youth, they help us, but a failure to switch them off brings the deterioration of old age. This new view offers a deeper understanding of what ageing actually is and the possibility of slowing or even partly reversing it. While the processes that drive ageing are a matter of debate, biogerontologists do agree on one thing – what it looks like: the progressive decline in physical function that most creatures experience with the passage of time. They have catalogued the cellular changes accompanying this decline, which include crumbling chromosome ends, damaged and unstable genomes and changes in the way that cells sense nutrients. For many years, biologists have favoured the idea that these hallmarks were the result of damage such as that wrought by reactive molecules called free radicals produced by our cells’ metabolism. This seemed to explain why limiting the amount of food that rodents eat slows ageing and extends lifespan: the metabolic rate of food-restricted animals slows, reducing the production of free radicals. Similarly, drugs that hamper the ability of cells to sense nutrients, via a protein called mTOR that regulates metabolism, also confer longer life in lab animals.

4-27-22 Gaza farmer accidentally discovers 4,500-year-old Canaanite goddess of war statue
The goddess of beauty, love, and war is now above ground. A farmer discovered the head of a 4,500-year-old stone statue in the Gaza Strip — it depicts the Canaanite deity Anat, BBC News reports. The farmer was reportedly digging on his Khan Younis land, located in the south of the Strip, when he discovered an artifact. Farmer Nidal Abu Eid says finding the stone wasn't his intention, it happened by chance. After washing off the mud with water, he noticed the 8.7-inch carving was the face of a goddess wearing a serpent crown. "We realized that it was a precious thing, but we didn't know it was of such great archaeological value," Eid adds. "We thank God, and we are proud that it stayed in our land, in Palestine, since the Canaanite times." Jamal Abu Rida of the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said during a Tuesday press conference that the artifact was "resistant against time." Experts examined the statue and it now sits on display in Qasr al-Basha, a Gaza museum. Rida says the statue not only represents beauty, love, and war but also makes a political point. "Such discoveries prove that Palestine has civilization and history, and no one can deny or falsify this history," he said. As The Daily Beast's Philippe Naughton reviews, the Canaanites "were a Semitic-speaking civilization in the second millennium B.C. whose lands covered modern-day Israel, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and parts of Syria and Jordan." Read more at BBC News.

4-27-22 A small Irish community survived a millennium of plagues and famines
Analysis of pollen preserved in peat at Slieveanorra in the Antrim hills reveals the resilience of a rural community through environmental changes. A rural Irish community survived a succession of climate shifts and other threats over the past 1000 years, a study of pollen preserved in peat has revealed. The finding suggests that societies can endure despite environmental changes, if they are flexible enough to adapt their way of life. People in Ireland have experienced multiple upheavals over the past millennium. These include the European famine of 1315-17, the Black Death of 1348-49 and the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52. There were also climatic shifts, notably the transition from the relatively warm Medieval climate anomaly to the marginally cooler Little Ice Age. To find out more about how people handled these events, Gill Plunkett and Graeme Swindles at Queen’s University Belfast in the UK studied an archaeological site called Slieveanorra in the Antrim hills, now part of Northern Ireland. It is a bog in the uplands, surrounded on three sides by ridges. “If you go up today, it’s deserted,” says Plunkett, but there are abandoned houses and indications of farming. Plunkett and Swindles studied pollen from a peat core from Slieveanorra to find out what plants grew there over the past 1000 years. They found evidence of human interference throughout, such as fewer trees than would be expected, more pasture plants plus cereal crops. The team also saw pollen from plants in the cannabis family, which includes hemp. “I think we’ve probably got hemp being produced and flax as well,” says Plunkett, perhaps for the textile industry. The little community weathered multiple crises. The famine and plague of the 1300s were associated with increased land use, suggesting that any reduction in the population was temporary. The only time the site was possibly abandoned was during a wet period in the mid-1400s, for a generation or two, but after that farming resumed and even increased.

4-27-22 https://www.newscientist.com/article/2317623-people-visited-stonehenge-site-thousands-of-years-before-it-was-built/
Archaeological work at Blick Mead, a site near Stonehenge, reveals that people were visiting the site thousands of years before the monument was built. The area surrounding Stonehenge, UK, may have acquired enormous significance for Stone Age humans thousands of years before the famous monument was built, suggest archaeologists working at a nearby site called Blick Mead. The Stonehenge monument was built between 3000 and 2000 BC. It is a ring of standing stones, surrounded by an earth bank and ditch. Lying more than a kilometre to the east of Stonehenge is Blick Mead, the site of a spring where warm waters rise up through the chalky bedrock. Archaeologists have been excavating there for nearly two decades and have found over 100,000 stone tools and the remains of animals. “It’s a great site,” says Helen Lewis at University College Dublin in Ireland. She says the sheer number of stone artefacts found there is “pretty astonishing”. People lived at Blick Mead long before Stonehenge was built – dating studies suggest people were active there between 8000 and 3400 BC. This indicates the first people at Blick Mead were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, distinct from the Neolithic farmers who built Stonehenge. These hunter-gatherers may have been drawn to the area because of the water source. Lewis says springs often attracted prehistoric people, and those sites became important. Samuel Hudson at the University of Southampton in the UK and his colleagues have used data from Blick Mead to estimate what the landscape there was like during the Mesolithic period, which took place from 15,000 BC to 5000 BC in Europe. The researchers drilled a core down into the ground to examine and date the layers of sediment. They also identified pollen grains preserved in the sediment, which indicate the types of plants that grew in the area.

4-25-22 People over 80 with ‘overweight’ BMI may have lower mortality rates
A body mass index over 25 is normally considered unhealthy, but a study of more than 27,000 people in China suggests that may not be the case for older age groups. People over 80 whose body mass index is higher than currently recommended have a lower mortality rate, a large-scale analysis in China has found. The findings suggest that weight guidelines should be changed for this age group. BMI scores are used to estimate whether or not someone has a healthy weight. It is based on a person’s height and weight, and most guidelines suggest that someone with a score above 25 is overweight, while those with scores above 30 are considered obese. These guidelines are largely based on measurements taken from younger age groups, says Xiaoming Shi at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. As the world’s population ages, it is important to ensure that these recommendations make sense for older age groups too, he says. Shi and his colleagues studied mortality risk in more than 27,000 people over the age of 80 across China from 1998 onwards. The participants had an average age of 93 when they enrolled in the study and they were followed up until 2018 or their deaths. Previous analyses have found a link between higher BMI scores in older age groups and a lower mortality rate, but this is the first study to look at this question with such a large sample size. In this analysis, the researchers found that the optimal BMI for the over-80s was around 29. This was largely driven by a lower risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes such as cancer or respiratory disease. This group also had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, but the relationship was weaker. Even those with a BMI in the “obese” range, between 30 and 35, had a lower mortality rate than those in the 20 to 25 range.

4-25-22 People over 80 with ‘overweight’ BMI may have lower mortality rates
A body mass index over 25 is normally considered unhealthy, but a study of more than 27,000 people in China suggests that may not be the case for older age groups. People over 80 whose body mass index is higher than currently recommended have a lower mortality rate, a large-scale analysis in China has found. The findings suggest that weight guidelines should be changed for this age group. BMI scores are used to estimate whether or not someone has a healthy weight. It is based on a person’s height and weight, and most guidelines suggest that someone with a score above 25 is overweight, while those with scores above 30 are considered obese. These guidelines are largely based on measurements taken from younger age groups, says Xiaoming Shi at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. As the world’s population ages, it is important to ensure that these recommendations make sense for older age groups too, he says. Shi and his colleagues studied mortality risk in more than 27,000 people over the age of 80 across China from 1998 onwards. The participants had an average age of 93 when they enrolled in the study and they were followed up until 2018 or their deaths. Previous analyses have found a link between higher BMI scores in older age groups and a lower mortality rate, but this is the first study to look at this question with such a large sample size. In this analysis, the researchers found that the optimal BMI for the over-80s was around 29. This was largely driven by a lower risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes such as cancer or respiratory disease. This group also had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, but the relationship was weaker. Even those with a BMI in the “obese” range, between 30 and 35, had a lower mortality rate than those in the 20 to 25 range.

4-25-22 A third of people aged over 70 are sexually active, survey reveals
Researchers asked 511 people aged 70 or over who lived in Belgium how sexually active they had been in the past year. Just under a third of people aged over 70 are sexually active, a survey has revealed. Adina Cismaru-Inescu at the University of Liège in Belgium and her colleagues are interested in the sexual activity of older people and how this relates to their well-being. To better understand the prevalence of sexual activity among this age group, the researchers led a survey of 511 people who lived in Belgium and were aged 70 or over. Of the participants, 200 were in their eighties and 29 in their nineties. Thirty-one per cent of the participants reported being sexually active in the past year. This was defined as engaging in any kind of sexual practice, including vaginal intercourse, masturbation, oral sex and anal sex. Of the remaining participants, 47 per cent said they had been involved in acts of “physical tenderness” with a partner, mainly kissing and cuddling, in the past 12 months. Sexual activity was more common among people who had a partner and a “permissive attitude” to intimacy, according to common criteria. Those who were relatively younger than the other participants and didn’t have a disability were also more likely to be sexually active. Overall, 74 per cent of the sexually active participants said they were satisfied with their sex life, according to Cismaru-Inescu. Of those who weren’t sexually active, nearly 60 per cent said they, too, were content with this level of intimacy. “When we talk about older adults, we just have this idea that, ‘oh, these are just grannies and grandpas who like cooking and going for a walk’,” says Cismaru-Inescu. “We don’t even think that they could have a sexuality.”

4-25-22 ‘The Last Days of the Dinosaurs’ tells a tale of destruction and recovery
The book explores how an asteroid strike and subsequent mass extinction shaped life on Earth. Some 66 million years ago, give or take several millennia, a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid slammed into our planet. The impact blasted out an enormous crater and heaved large amounts of material into the atmosphere. Some of the sulfur-rich debris poisoned the sky, unleashing downpours of acid rain. Heat generated by ejecta falling back to Earth ignited wildfires worldwide that blazed for months, if not years. In the wake of the event, as many as 75 percent of all species were wiped out. In The Last Days of the Dinosaurs, science writer Riley Black chronicles both the pre-apocalyptic idyll and the worldwide devastation that resulted from what some scientists have dubbed “Earth’s worst day.” The book is a compelling amalgamation of both new and old scientific information (and some science-based speculation). Black begins her tale by exploring what happened in the Hell Creek area of today’s Montana, whose rocks offer what is perhaps the best record of a dinosaur habitat. This ancient ecosystem and others worldwide included far more than apex predators, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, and their prey, of course; they also hosted a wealth of creatures, including lice and other parasites. These ecosystems drastically changed once the space rock hit. Larger dinosaurs, as well as any smaller creatures unable to shelter in burrows, for example, couldn’t escape the destruction (SN: 3/26/22, p. 8). Despite the title, the largest part of Black’s book recounts how life rebounded in the 1 million years after the impact. Forest floors served as natural seed banks to feed surviving insects, birds and small mammals. These seeds, some of which had previously evolved to withstand wildfires, were also the sources of forests that grew back. Those initial forests were stubby and dominated by ferns for years. Some ecosystems — especially freshwater lakes and rivers whose waters were chemically buffered from acid rain by dissolved carbonates derived from limestones — emerged relatively unscathed and so species persisted there.

4-23-22 Glowing spider fossils may exist thanks to tiny algae’s goo
A sulfur-rich diatom secretion coated the arachnids, helping preserve them, a study suggests. The secret ingredient for fossil preservation at a famous French site wouldn’t be found in a Julia Child cookbook. It was a sticky goo made by microalgae, researchers suggest. An analysis of roughly 22-million-year-old spider fossils from a fossil-rich rock formation in Aix-en-Provence, France, reveals that the arachnids’ bodies were coated with a tarry black substance. That substance, a kind of biopolymer, was probably secreted by tiny algae called diatoms that lived in the lake or lagoon waters at the ancient site, scientists report April 21 in Communications Earth & Environment. The biopolymer didn’t just coat the spiders’ bodies — it pickled them. By chemically reacting with the spiders’ carbon-rich exoskeletons, the goo helped preserve the bodies from decomposition, allowing them to more easily become fossils, the team hypothesizes. A clue that this coating might play a role in fossilization came when the researchers, on a whim, placed a spider fossil under a fluorescence microscope. To their surprise, the substance glowed a bright yellow-orange. “It was amazing!” says geologist Alison Olcott of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The fluorescent imaging painted a bright, colorful palette onto what was otherwise a fairly faint spider fossil, Olcott says. In the original, she could barely tell the spider apart from the background rock. But under fluorescence, she says, the spider fossil glowed in one color, the background in another and the biopolymer in a third. That discovery — along with an abrupt halt in early 2020 to any additional fossil-collecting plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic — swiftly shifted the focus of the team’s work. “Had it been normal times, this would have been a side note in a taxonomy study” classifying ancient spiders, Olcott says. Instead, “I really had to explore what I had,” she adds. “It was me and these images.”

4-22-22 Covid-19 vaccines don't affect success of fresh embryo transfer IVF
Pregnancy rates were the same regardless of vaccination status for people undergoing fresh embryo transfer IVF treatment. Pregnancy rates are the same for people undergoing a form of IVF called fresh embryo transfer, whether or not they have received a covid-19 vaccine. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence that covid-19 vaccines don’t undermine fertility. Most previous research into how covid-19 vaccines might influence IVF outcomes has focused on techniques that use frozen embryos or inject eggs with live sperm. But fresh embryo transfers more closely mimic natural pregnancies, as the sperm has to penetrate the egg on its own. Emily Jacobs at the University of Iowa and her team analysed data from 142 vaccinated people and 138 unvaccinated people who underwent fresh embryo transfer between December 2020 and September 2021. The researchers didn’t collect data on self-reported gender identity. About 90 per cent of the vaccinated people in the study were fully vaccinated, while 10 per cent had received one dose of a vaccine. Among the vaccinated and unvaccinated participants, there were no significant differences in outcomes during various stages of IVF, including the number of eggs retrieved, the ovarian response to stimulation, the number of viable embryos or fertilisation rates. Both groups had the same pregnancy and miscarriage rates. “I think the data we show confirmed previously published data that we really have found no detrimental impact of covid-19 vaccination on any aspect of reproduction,” says Jacobs. “Infection [with covid-19], on the other hand, has been shown to impact male fertility by temporarily decreasing sperm counts and motility.” The study also included fully vaccinated people who received their last vaccine dose right before their IVF cycle, so there is probably no benefit of waiting to get vaccinated either, says Jacobs.

4-22-22 What experts told me to do after my positive COVID-19 at-home test
It gets complicated to figure out how to report results and when you’re no longer contagious. After two years of successfully evading getting COVID-19 — including a few brushes with close contacts, a couple of are-they-just-colds? scares and lots of negative tests — I recently tested positive. It felt both inevitable and shocking. I somehow avoided testing positive during the omicron surge that infected most of my friends this winter, so I figured that either I was invincible or I was next. Staring at my at-home rapid antigen test, I had to acknowledge that the long game of high-stakes tag was finally over. I was now “it.” COVID-19 snuck up on me when I least expected it. Cases are low where I live in Queens, N.Y. And riding the subway felt low risk thanks to the federal public transit mask mandate. (A federal judge struck down the mandate on April 18, although the Biden administration announced April 20 it would appeal the ruling and some places, including New York City, are keeping masking requirements in place for the time being.) I had dined indoors, but I still wore my mask inside public spaces (SN: 3/25/22). So when I woke up with a sore throat on a Wednesday, I chalked it up to needing more sleep. Before I tested Friday evening, I was still convinced it was just another cold. Two thick lines on my rapid test said otherwise (SN: 12/17/21). OK, I thought, I definitely have COVID. Now what? I had a pretty good idea of the first few steps, which had been drilled into my head ad nauseam: Isolate immediately. Text close contacts from the 48 hours before first symptoms. Stay away from other people and pets in the house. It got blurrier from there. Since I tested myself at home, my COVID-19 test wasn’t official. Surely I should report my positive test; after all, public health regulations are often based on case numbers. But it turns out that playing my part was a lot harder than I would have thought.

4-22-22 You might avoid divisive products if your parents argued as a child
The way someone processes information in product reviews may differ depending on whether or not they grew up in a home with parents who argued. People who listened to their parents argue throughout their childhood are often so traumatised as adults that they avoid products with mixed online reviews, according to a psychological examination of the long-term effects of interparental conflict (IPC). Adults who experienced IPC as children appear to dodge disagreements even in their online shopping behaviour, says Mengmeng Liu at Hong Kong Metropolitan University. They do so by opting for products with consistent ratings over those with a mix of good and bad reviews – meaning they would ten d to choose a product with dozens of 3-star reviews over an alternative that received both glowing and terrible reviews to give a 3-star average. “Review [differences] can be perceived as interpersonal disagreement that turns off those consumers who are more sensitive to conflict… due to previous unpleasant experiences in their lifetimes,” suggests Liu. All families experience forms of disagreement. But IPC is associated with arguments that never resolve, or those involving physical or verbal aggression, personal insults or expressions of anger and hostility, says Liu. Previous research has shown that people growing up in homes with high IPC levels tend to develop anxiety, depression and feelings of shame even into adulthood, says Liu. In general, they have difficulty dealing with conflict between people and they usually avoid it altogether. Curious about how IPC would affect people’s interpretations of product reviews, Liu and her colleagues carried out a series of five studies in which 1113 volunteers were asked to choose between a selection of hotel rooms, of physicians or of chocolate truffles after reading descriptions of the options and various customer or patient reviews. All the options had an average rating of 3 out of 5 stars, she says. But half of those averages resulted from consistent 3-star reviews, whereas the rest were calculated from an equal mix of 1-star and 5-star reviews.

4-22-22 Cambridge University study finds Anglo-Saxon kings were mostly vegetarian
Anglo-Saxon kings were mostly vegetarian before the Vikings settled, according to new studies. Cambridge University researchers analysed more than 2,000 skeletons and found elites ate no more meat than other social groups. One study also suggested peasants occasionally hosted lavish meat feasts for their rulers. Researchers said the findings overturned major assumptions about early medieval English history. Cambridge University bioarchaeologist Sam Leggett drew her conclusions after analysing chemical signatures of diets preserved in the bones of 2,023 people buried in England from the 5th to 11th Centuries. She then cross-referenced these with evidence for social status such as grave goods, body position and grave orientation and found no correlation between social status and high protein diets. The findings surprised Cambridge University historian Tom Lambert, because so many medieval texts and historical studies suggested that Anglo-Saxon elites did eat large quantities of meat. The pair worked together to decipher royal food lists and discovered similar patterns of servings - like a modest amount of bread, a huge amount of meat, a decent but not excessive quantity of ale, and no mention of vegetables, although some probably were served. Mr Lambert said: "The scale and proportions of these food lists strongly suggests that they were provisions for occasional grand feasts, and not general food supplies sustaining royal households on a daily basis." Dr Leggett said: "I've found no evidence of people eating anything like this much animal protein on a regular basis. "If they were, we would find isotopic evidence of excess protein and signs of diseases like gout from the bones. But we're just not finding that. "The isotopic evidence suggests that diets in this period were much more similar across social groups than we've been led to believe. "We should imagine a wide range of people livening up bread with small quantities of meat and cheese, or eating pottages of leeks and whole grains with a little meat thrown in."

4-21-22 Artificial nerve cells have been made in the lab
Synthetic neurons made of hydrogel could one day be used in sophisticated artificial tissues to repair organs such as the heart or the eyes. Artificial nerve cells made from biocompatible materials have been made in a lab for the first time. The innovation may one day be used in synthetic tissues to repair organs such as the heart or the eyes. Hagan Bayley at the University of Oxford and his colleagues devised a synthetic material that can act in a similar way to a human neuron. Made from hydrogel, the artificial neurons are about 0.7 millimetres across ­– about 700 times wider than a human neuron, but similar to giant axons found in squid. They can also be made up to 25 millimetres long, which is similar in length to a human optic nerve running from the eye to the brain. When a light is shone on the synthetic neuron, it activates proteins that pump hydrogen ions into the cell. These positively charged ions then move through the neuron, carrying an electrical signal. The speed of transmission was too fast to measure with the team’s equipment and is probably faster than the rate in natural neurons, says Bayley. When the positive charge reaches the tip of the neuron, it makes adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – a neurotransmitter chemical – move from one water droplet to another. In future work, the researchers hope to make the synthetic neuron interact with another via an ATP signal, just as neurons connect with each other at synapses. The team bundled seven of the neurons together to work in parallel as a synthetic nerve. “This allows us to send multiple signals simultaneously,” says Bayley. “They can all have very different frequencies and so it’s a very versatile signal.” The main purpose is to send different pieces of information down the same pathway, he says.

4-21-22 Tiny axles and rotors made of protein could power molecular machines
esearchers have designed proteins that self-assemble into tiny machine parts for use in molecular engines. The first components of a molecular engine – self-assembling axles and rotors made of specially designed proteins – have been created entirely from scratch. “We are starting very simply,” says Alexis Courbet at the University of Washington. But as he and his team create more basic parts, it will become possible to combine them into ever more sophisticated nanomachines, he says. “There could really be an incredible number of applications,” says David Baker, a team member also at the University of Washington. For instance, nanomachines might one day be used to unclog arteries or to repair damaged cells, he says. There are already countless molecular machines on Earth. Living organisms are essentially made of protein machines, including innumerable forms of rotary engines, such as the “tail” or flagellum of some bacteria. But because these existing machines have been optimised by evolution for specific purposes, it is hard to adapt them for other purposes, Baker says. “What we’ve found is that if you go back to start and try designing everything from first principles, you can get much, much further.” To achieve this, Courbet, Baker and colleagues designed new proteins unlike any found in nature. Proteins are chains of amino acids. Natural proteins are made of around 20 different amino acids, and the sequence of amino acids in a chain determines the structure of the protein. Predicting what shape a given sequence will fold into has been one of the major problems biologists have been working on for decades, but recently there have have huge advances thanks to deep learning software. Courbet designed several different versions of axles and rotors using a suite of software called Rosetta developed by Baker’s group. This suite includes RoseTTaFold, which is similar to the AlphaFold system developed by UK-based AI company DeepMind.

4-21-22 Traffic accident statistics on signs may actually cause more crashes
The number of crashes on Texan roads increased when electronic signs were used to display driving fatality figures. DElectronic signs above US highways that highlight annual traffic fatalities are intended to shock people into driving safely, but statisticians warn there is compelling evidence they actually cause accidents. Although the messages are displayed in many US states, Jonathan Hall at the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues chose to examine crash data from Texas because the state uses electronic signs for fatality warnings just one week out of each month, providing ample control data for comparison. The researchers compared the number of crashes from the two years before the signs were introduced with five years of data while they were in place. They discovered that displaying a fatality message increased the number of crashes on the 10 kilometres of road after the sign by 4.5 per cent. Their findings suggest fatality messages caused an additional 2600 crashes and 16 deaths per year across Texas. Hall puts the effect down to distraction and the increase in a driver’s cognitive load while absorbing the information. “You see it and you’re thinking about it, and so you don’t put on your brakes quite as soon, and these little errors, 1 in 50 times, might cause a crash,” he speculates. “The perfect evidence would be a randomised control trial. I want to be clear that we don’t have that. But I think we actually have really, really compelling evidence.” He says that the number of fatalities displayed on a sign also changes its impact as larger numbers are more shocking. In Texas, the state fatality numbers were reset each year in February and the team saw a big drop in crashes in February compared with January.

4-21-22 Why taking medications during pregnancy is so confusing
It's hard to know what new drugs are safe when medical research excludes pregnant people. Obstetrician Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman was treating patients in New York City when the COVID-19 pandemic swept in. Hospitals began filling up. Some of her pregnant patients were among the sick. It was a terrifying time. Little was known about the virus called SARS-CoV-2 to begin with, much less how it might affect a pregnancy, so doctors had to make tough calls. Gyamfi-Bannerman remembers doctors getting waivers to administer the antiviral drug remdesivir to pregnant COVID-19 patients, for instance, even though the drug hadn’t been tested during pregnancy. “Our goal is to help the mom,” she says. “If we had something that might save her life — or she might die — we were 100 percent using all of those medications.” These life-or-death decisions were very familiar to obstetricians even before the pandemic. Pregnant women have long been excluded from most drug testing to avoid risk to the fetus. As a result, there’s little data on whether many medications are safe to take while pregnant. This means tough choices for the roughly 80 percent of women who will take at least one medication during pregnancy. Some have serious conditions that can be dangerous for both mother and fetus if left untreated, like high blood pressure or diabetes. “Pregnant women are essentially like everybody else,” Gyamfi-Bannerman says. They have the same underlying conditions, requiring the same drugs. In a 2013 study, the top 20 prescriptions taken during the first trimester included antibiotics, asthma and allergy drugs, metformin for diabetes, and antidepressants. Yet even for common drugs, the only advice available if you’re pregnant is “talk to your doctor.” With no data, doctors don’t have the answers either.

4-21-22 'Viking skin' nailed to medieval church doors is actually animal hide
Scientists analysed the remains of skin patches attached to three English church doors, discovering they came from farm animals - not Viking raiders. Patches of skin supposedly flayed from Viking raiders and attached to the doors of some English churches are actually animal hides, a genetic analysis has revealed. At least four medieval churches in England have remains of these so-called daneskins. The most well-known example is from St. Botolph’s church in Hadstock, near Cambridge. According to local myth, St. Botolph’s macabre adornment was taken from a Viking after they attempted to pillage the church, the door of which dates back to the 11th century. To learn more, Ruairidh Macleod at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analysed skin fragments from three of the four known churches: St. Botolph’s, St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Copford, near Colchester, and Westminster Abbey in London. Daneskin is also attached to a door in Worcester Cathedral, but Macleod does not yet have permission to test this sample. From the three churches’ doors, the team analysed five daneskin samples, either preserved close to the doors’ ironwork or from a museum specimen. Collagen, a key skin protein, was analysed via ZooMS, a technique that identifies animal species according to their collagen. The results, presented at the UK Archaeological Sciences Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, reveal none of the skins came from a Viking. Two of the churches’ daneskins were actually cow hide, while the Copford skin came from a horse or donkey, which have very similar collagen fingerprints to each other. This supports an old hypothesis that these skins were put on church doors to make them more attractive, says Jane Geddes at the University of Aberdeen. A medieval author known as Theophilus Presbyter, thought to have been a monk born around 1070, wrote the book On diverse arts, which gives instructions on how to build churches. This states that wooden doors should be covered with animal hide, before being smoothed and whitened, to show off the door’s intricate ironwork.

4-20-22 The Last Days of the Dinosaurs review: A must-read reconstruction
Palaeontologist Riley Black has written an inventive look at the days, years and centuries following the impact of the asteroid that triggered the extinction of about three-quarters of all the species on Earth. WELCOME to Hell Creek, in what is now Montana. But readers better not get too attached to the inhabitants dreamed into being in the first chapter of a vivid new book, The Last Days of the Dinosaurs by Riley Black, a palaeontologist and prolific writer. We meet the Tyrannosaurus rex, “her reddish brown hide now draped in orange and gold from the low-angled light of the evening sun”, the low-slung herbivore Ankylosaurus, defending herself with a car-tyre-sized tail club, and the Alamosaurus sanjuanensis hatchling that will never get to grow into one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth. Tomorrow, a 10-kilometre-wide asteroid, later to be known as the Chicxulub impactor, will plough into the ancient Yucatán in what is now Mexico. It will trigger the extinction of about three-quarters of all the species on Earth. Along with all non-avian dinosaurs, the great bat-winged pterosaurs will perish. Quetzalcoatlus, with a wingspan wider than a Cessna plane, will disappear. Later, invertebrates such as ammonites will stutter and stop in seas made corrosive by acid rain. Most early mammals – those that didn’t go up in flames or get blasted off into space – will eventually starve, and with them, most lizards, snakes and birds. Subsequent chapters offer more glimpses of the aftermath, each separated by an exponentially longer interval. An hour after impact and in Hell Creek, more than 4500 kilometres from the impact, a puzzled Ankylosaurus fights for its footing at the edge of a lake. Safe in her burrow, a squirrel-like Mesodma sleeps through a day of pulsing, planetary conflagration. A month in, and little two-toed Acheroraptors are poking about in the decaying debris, unaware of the cold and hunger to come.

4-20-22 What psychology is revealing about 'ghosting' and the pain it causes
Ending a relationship by disappearing without explanation, known as “ghosting”, seems to be a distinct form of social rejection – and psychologists are discovering why it is so painful. T WAS 2015 when Jennice Vilhauer’s clients started telling her ghost stories. The Los Angeles-based psychotherapist had more than 10 years of experience helping people with their depression, anxiety and relationship issues – but suddenly, clients began telling her about a new problem, one that left them extremely distressed. They were victims of ghosting, where one person ends all communication with another, disappearing like a phantom. Messages are ignored and just like that, the person you had a connection with – typically a romantic partner, but sometimes a friend or colleague – chooses to disengage with no explanation. But when Vilhauer searched for more information, she found little research on this phenomenon. So she started publishing her own observations online and was soon inundated with emails from people who had been ghosted. “There’s been an enormous explosion of interest in this because it’s happening so frequently,” she says. Which begs the question, what is uniquely painful about ghosting? After all, it nearly always hurts when a relationship ends. Is being ghosted any more distressing in the information age than, say, in the Wild West, when your lover hopped on their horse and left you in a trail of dust without so much as a forwarding address? We are now beginning to find out, as well as building a picture of why people ghost, how quirks of the brain can make it feel worse than it ought to and how, counter-intuitively, ghosting may be getting less painful. Back in 2015, ghosting hurt so badly because it was completely unexpected, says Vilhauer – it wasn’t something people mentally prepared for when entering a relationship. While disappearing from a relationship without notice has undoubtedly occurred throughout history, technology seems to have increased its frequency. One 2021 study by researchers at Wesleyan University in Connecticut noted that social media plays an “integral role in perpetuating ghosting” due to its anonymity and because it allows us to connect – and hence disconnect – with others easily. As one ghoster in the study said: “It’s easier to hide behind the screen and not face the music.”

4-20-22 CRISPR nanocapsule limits growth of aggressive brain tumours in mice
Tiny capsule that delivers CRISPR gene therapy to the brain could be used to target glioblastoma tumours. A nanocapsule that delivers the gene-editing tool CRISPR to the brain could be used to treat one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer, called glioblastoma. In tests in mouse models of the condition, the technique halted tumour growth and extended lifespan. CRISPR is a tool for adding, removing or altering genetic material inside cells, and has great promise for treating some conditions. It is accurate and cheap compared to other gene-editing methods, but it is currently difficult to use in the brain. Most methods for targeting the brain involve either direct injection into brain tissue or inserting CRISPR into non-disease-causing viruses and then injecting these into the bloodstream. These methods have significant drawbacks, including potential injury to brain tissue or, in the case of viruses, difficulty in pinpointing delivery, meaning there is an increased risk of serious side effects such as unintended genetic mutations. By packaging CRISPR in specially designed nanocapsules – tiny non-toxic polymer bubbles – researchers have been able to address these problems elsewhere in the body, but there have been challenges using this technique in the brain. That is largely because it is hard to get past the blood brain barrier: blood vessels in the brain are less porous than elsewhere in the body, something that usually helps to protect against harmful invaders. “Brain diseases, including brain tumours, are particularly challenging to target therapeutically because of the blood brain barrier,” says neurosurgeon Dimitris Placantonakis at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Now, Yan Zou at the Henan-Macquarie University Joint Center for Biomedical Innovation in China and colleagues have designed a new kind of nanocapsule that was able to cross this barrier and deliver CRISPR therapy in mice with brain tumours.

4-20-22 Stone Age Europeans may have gathered to watch animations by the fire
The campfire was a social hub for ancient humans, and a virtual reality investigation suggests that the flickering light may have made art etched on flat rocks look animated. Stone Age Europeans may have huddled around campfires at night to watch simple animations created when firelight danced across artwork etched on flat rocks. The ancient paintings preserved on the walls of European caves tell us that Stone Age artists could depict animals with astonishing realism. What makes this prehistoric art even more impressive is that a lot of it must have been painted by firelight, because it lies far from cave entrances and beyond the reach of the sun. Recently, some archaeologists have speculated that ancient humans saw this flickering firelight as an opportunity to enhance their work. By producing multiple overlapping pictures on the cave wall, artists could create rudimentary animations as the light from their flaming torches highlighted first one and then another image. Now, Andrew Needham at the University of York, UK, and his colleagues have found evidence that these simple animations weren’t confined to deep caves. Instead, some appear to have been etched onto flat stones placed near hearths around which Stone Age people would gather in the evening. The stones, called plaquettes, were excavated in the 19th century from the Montastruc rock shelter in southern France. Most of them are 10 to 20 centimetres in length and width and have images of animals – usually horses or reindeers – etched on one or both sides. They were created by so-called Magdalenian people, probably between about 16,000 and 13,500 years ago. Little is known about how the plaquettes were originally used. But Needham and his colleagues point out that most of them have one feature in common: evidence of exposure to heat. Because other ancient artefacts from the rock shelter don’t show evidence of heat exposure, the researchers argue that the plaquettes were routinely placed near campfires.

4-20-22 Pterosaur fossil suggests feathers may have evolved long before flight
Feathers of different colours have been found on a fossilised pterosaur skull, hinting that an ancestor of these winged reptiles had feathers far earlier than we thought. Pterosaurs – flying reptiles that cruised the skies millions of years ago – may have had multicoloured feathers. We know that some dinosaurs, which are cousins of pterosaurs, had feathers like this, but the discovery of feathers with different colours on a pterosaur indicates that feathers may have come about 100 million years earlier than researchers previously thought, earlier even than flying vertebrates. Maria McNamara at University College Cork in Ireland and her colleagues found these preserved feathers on a fossilised partial pterosaur skull that was held in a private collection and was originally excavated in Brazil. Specimens of this particular species, Tupandactylus imperator, have prominent crests on their heads; the feathers on this skull were found on either side of the crest. The researchers found two types of feathers: whisker-like monofilaments and more complex branching feathers. When examined under a microscope, each type of feather contained different sorts of melanosomes, tiny pieces of cells that synthesise and store the pigment melanin. “The monofilaments have these elongated, sausage-shaped melanosomes, but the branched feathers have these more stubby, fat melanosomes,” says McNamara. “The melanosome shape is really closely linked to its chemistry and thus its colour.” By comparing these melanosomes with those found in modern feathered animals, the researchers determined that the bristly monofilaments were probably black or dark brown, while the fluffier branched feathers were probably a lighter shade of brown. “The specific colours don’t really matter from an evolutionary sense; what matters is that they have these different colours,” says McNamara. “It probably means that the ability to impart colour is something that’s really ancient and that’s tied up in the whole way that feathers were evolved.”

4-20-22 Hepatitis cases detected in children in Europe and the US
Health officials say they are now investigating unexplained cases of hepatitis in children in four European countries and the US.. Cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, have been reported in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the US, health officials say. Last week UK health authorities said they had detected higher than usual cases of the infection among children. The cause of the infections is not yet known. The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) did not specify how many cases have been found in the four European countries in total. But the World Health Organization (WHO) said less than five had been found in Ireland, and three had been found in Spain. It added that the detection of more cases in the coming days was likely. Investigations into the cause of the infections are ongoing in all of the European countries where cases have been reported, said the ECDC. In the US, Alabama's public health department said nine cases have been found in children aged one to six years old, with two needing liver transplants. The UK is where the highest number of cases has been reported - with a total of 74 recorded so far. Last week the UK Health Security Agency said the usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis (hepatitis A to E) have not been detected among the cases in the UK. As a result, investigators are looking at other possible causes, and believe that the common adenovirus could be the cause. Adenoviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause a range of mild illnesses such as colds, vomiting and diarrhoea. It did however say that other possible causes of the infection are also being investigated, and it had not ruled out Covid-19. It added that there is no apparent link with Covid-19 vaccines. It's a broad term used to describe inflammation of the liver. Usually the result of a viral infection, it can also be caused by exposure to some chemicals, drinking too much alcohol, drugs and certain genetic disorders.

4-19-22 Is covid-19 causing a global surge of diabetes cases?
Many clinics are reporting people diagnosed with diabetes during or soon after an infection with the coronavirus - but the picture is more complicated than it appears. COVID-19 is notorious for sometimes leaving an aftermath of puzzling symptoms, such as fatigue or concentration difficulties. But doctors are also worried about the coronavirus triggering a more familiar condition: diabetes. In countries that are dropping coronavirus precautions, it seems likely that nearly everyone will get infected at some point. So what do we know so far about the link between the virus and diabetes – and how will health services cope? Diabetes is an umbrella term for several conditions that involve high blood sugar, and can lead to serious complications, such as heart attacks. The body normally keeps blood sugar within a narrow window, as too high a level can damage organs and blood vessels. The main hormone that brings down blood sugar into a safe range after meals is insulin. Nine in 10 people with diabetes have a form called type 2, which is usually seen in people who are overweight and is linked with cells becoming resistant to insulin. A less common form, called type 1, usually arises in childhood, and is caused by the death of pancreas cells that make insulin. The strange thing with covid-19 is that doctors are seeing a rise in both kinds of diabetes after infections. Signs of a rise were noticed in the first few months of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, and have since been confirmed in other countries. Most of the studies on this link so far have been descriptive ones, looking at people who go to hospital for covid-19 and are diagnosed with diabetes while there. More recently, researchers have begun estimating how often diabetes arises after the infection, including in people who didn’t go to hospital, who account for most covid-19 cases.

4-19-22 Man born blind has synaesthesia that makes numbers feel textured
A man born without sight has a rare form of synaesthesia in which he feels numbers, days of the week and months as different textures. For people with synaesthesia, hearing music may make them see a colour or feel a texture. The condition has now been reported for the first time in someone who was born blind, showing that vision isn’t necessary for synaesthesia to develop even though sight is involved in many cases of synaesthesia. Roberto Bottini at the University of Trento in Italy and his colleagues studied a 40-year-old man who was born blind and who described his synaesthesia to them. Bottini found the man by chance. “He was a common friend of a friend,” he says. “He started telling me about this beautiful and very complex synaesthesia that he had in his head.” The man feels textures in his index fingers in relation to different numbers, months and days of the week. He also associates each number with an imaginary cube precisely located in his 3D mental space. To learn more about the man’s synaesthesia, the researchers attached 40 squares of textured material to a board and gave him a few minutes to feel them. They asked him to pick out tiles that best matched what certain numbers, months or days of the week feel like to him. For example, the number 3 feels like velvet to him, whereas April feels plastic. They also carried out the same experiment with 10 people without synaesthesia, who were blindfolded. A month later, the man and these 10 people repeated the test with the materials randomly rearranged on the board to see if the relationship between textures and numbers, months or days remained the same. For numbers, the two sets of answers given by the blindfolded participants had an average match of about 7 per cent, whereas the man scored 75 per cent.

4-19-22 Sandwich chain offers 4/20 discounts based on how 'high' customers are
Sandwich chain Jimmy John's is offering customers a 4/20 discount on Wednesday based on how "high" they are, and you can take advantage of the deal without going anywhere near the devil's lettuce. "How high are you this 4/20?" asks the promotional website gethighwithjimmyjohns.com. The "four twenty" meme likely originated in 1971 among four high school stoners who would meet at 4:20 p.m. to spark that loud spinach, The Independent explains. It has since become a near-universal euphemism for smoking marijuana. Hoping to drive sales among munchie-stricken jazz cabbage enthusiasts, Jimmy John's prompts customers to "share your location and find out how high you are." But wait. What would my location have to do with it? The website clarifies that the discount his based on how "high" you are "in elevation." This reporter's home in Alexandria, Virginia, is only 36 feet above sea level, so this reporter only qualifies for 10 percent off. (And since I'm working today, I'm not that desperate for Jimmy John's, if you know what I mean.) But even if you aren't particularly high (sorry, "elevated"), you might still save some money this 4/20. Morning Brew reported Tuesday that, despite rampant inflation, the price of the dankest herb has actually fallen. In Colorado, a pound of cannabis will set you back $799. Bud hasn't been that cheap since January 2019, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Of course, Colorado is also the country's "highest" state by average elevation, so really this sounds like a win-win.

4-18-22 A new nuclear imaging prototype detects tumors’ faint glow
Doctors could someday use Cerenkov light to detect cancer. A type of light commonly observed in astrophysics experiments and nuclear reactors can help detect cancer. In a clinical trial, a prototype of an imaging machine that relies on this usually bluish light, called Cerenkov radiation, successfully captured the presence and location of cancer patients’ tumors, researchers report April 11 in Nature Biomedical Engineering. When compared with standard scans of the tumors, the Cerenkov light images were classified as “acceptable” or higher for 90 percent of patients, says Magdalena Skubal, a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Cerenkov radiation is generated by high-speed particles traveling faster than light through a material, such as bodily tissue (SN: 8/5/21). In Cerenkov luminescence imaging, or CLI, particles released by radiotracers cause the target tissue to vibrate and relax in a way that emits light, which is then captured by a camera. Between May 2018 and March 2020, in the largest clinical trial of its kind to date, 96 participants underwent both CLI and standard imaging, such as positron emission tomography/computed tomography, or PET/CT. Participants with a variety of diagnoses, including lymphoma, thyroid cancer and metastatic prostate cancer, received one of five radiotracers and were then imaged by the prototype — a camera in a light-proof enclosure. Skubal and colleagues found that CLI detected all radiotracers, suggesting that the technology is more versatile than PET/CT scans, which work with only some radiotracers. CLI images aren’t as precise as those from PET/CT scans. But CLI could be used as an initial diagnostic test or to assess the general size of a tumor undergoing treatment, says study coauthor Edwin Pratt, also of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “It would be a quick and easy way to see if there’s something off … [that warrants] further investigation,” Pratt says.

4-19-22 US judge throws out Biden mask mandate for planes and trains
A federal judge in Florida has struck down the Biden administration's mask mandate for airplanes and other forms of public transit, calling it unlawful. US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the national public health agency had exceeded its legal powers in issuing the mandate. The US transit authority said it would now no longer enforce mask wearing. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just last week extended the mandate until 3 May. Judge Mizelle is based in Florida, but federal judges can issue rulings that block nationwide government policies. Her order on Monday effectively removes the masking requirement in all airports, trains, taxis and transit hubs. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the decision "disappointing" and noted that the CDC still recommends travellers cover their mouths and noses. The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment to Monday's ruling. Last week US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the mandate had been extended into May because of rising Covid-19 cases. The lawsuit was first brought in July 2021 by the conservative group Health Freedom Defense Fund (HFDF) and two Florida residents who said wearing masks increased their anxiety and panic attacks. The plaintiffs argued that the CDC mandate was "arbitrary and capricious" because it gave exemptions to certain groups - like children under two years of age - but not to others. In her ruling, Judge Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, found that the CDC had improperly invoked what is known as the "good cause exception", allowing the agency to skip public notice and comment on the mandate. "Because 'our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,'" Judge Mizelle wrote, invoking another case, "the Court declares unlawful and vacates the Mask Mandate."

4-18-22 Federal judge tosses CDC's public transport mask mandate, rules agency overstepped
A federal judge in Florida struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national mask mandate for planes and public transportation on Monday, claiming the rule exceeds the authority of health officials, The Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle's ruling also said the CDC failed to properly justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking, AP writes. "The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA," the ruling reads. "Accordingly, the court vacates the mandate and remands it to the CDC." The CDC recently extended the mask mandate for public transport until May 3 to allow more time to investigate the Omicron subvariant known as BA.2. The rule was previously set to expire on April 18. According to Grid News' Chris Geidner, Mizelle was the youngest federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump, and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. While a judicial nominee, Mizelle was also apparently rated "not qualified" by the American Bar Association. The judge's decision, per legal analyst Joyce White Vance, will have a "nationwide effect" — at least until it is potentially reversed. Notably, an appeal is likely, per Buzzfeed News.

4-18-22 Quantum experiments add weight to a fringe theory of consciousness
Experiments on how anaesthetics alter the behaviour of tiny structures found in brain cells bolster the controversial idea that quantum effects in the brain might explain consciousness. The controversial idea that quantum effects in the brain can explain consciousness has passed a key test. Experiments show that anaesthetic drugs reduce how long tiny structures found in brain cells can sustain suspected quantum excitations. As anaesthetic switches consciousness on and off, the results may implicate these structures, called microtubules, as a nexus of our conscious experience. According to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, a system can exist in multiple states simultaneously until the act of observing it distils the cloud of possibilities into a definite reality. Orchestrated objective reduction (Orch OR) theory postulates that brain microtubules are the place where gravitational instabilities in the structure of space-time break the delicate quantum superposition between particles, and this gives rise to consciousness. Physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff proposed Orch OR in the 1990s, but a lack of experimental evidence consigned it to the fringes of consciousness science. Some scientists regarded the theory as untestable, while others noted that the brain was too wet and warm to ever harbour these fragile quantum states. Now Jack Tuszynski at the University of Alberta in Canada and his colleagues have presented work at the Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson, Arizona, on 18 April, to challenge these convictions – showing that anaesthetic drugs shorten the time it takes for microtubules to re-emit trapped light. “It’s a major step in the right direction,” says Tuszynski. “It is interesting,” says Vlatko Vedral, a quantum physicist at the University of Oxford. “But this connection with consciousness is a really long shot.”

4-18-22 'I felt more joy than I thought possible'
"I had the full-blown mystical revelatory experience - the big psychedelic multi-coloured light and sound show." This is how Steve recalls his first dose of a hallucinogenic drug, psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. His experience was part of a clinical trial that some scientists are calling a major step towards a revolution in the treatment of depression. It is a trial complicated by the fact that the drug it is testing is illegal. Psilocybin is a Schedule 1 controlled substance; its use is very strictly regulated. Part of the definition of a Schedule 1 drug is that it is not used medicinally. But this trial, which scanned of the brains of participants after their treatment with psychedelics, painted an extraordinary physical picture of the effect and the experience. The brain scans showed "more connectivity" between different brain regions. The researchers say their findings show how hallucinogenics break a depressed person "out of a rut of negative thinking" - that psilocybin "reintegrates" a depressed brain, making it more fluid, flexible and connected. So how does it feel to have your brain reintegrated by psychedelic drugs? "It's an ineffable experience - words like the ones we're using now are just not enough," Steve told BBC Radio 4's Inside Science. "With the first dose, I felt joy like I've never experienced - and more like myself than I've ever felt." But the second dose in the trial, he said, was very dark. Steve, who is now in his 60s, was diagnosed with depression more than 30 years ago. Traditional antidepressants simply did not work for him. Those existing drugs work by increasing the levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain. That is one of the chemical messengers that relays signals from one part of the brain to another; low serotonin has been associated with depression since the 1960s.

4-15-22 Drones with high-tech sensors track disease in Italy's olive trees
A new high-tech strategy will help monitor crops for infection with Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that has devastated the olive industry in southern Italy. Drones equipped with hyperspectral and thermal sensors will be deployed in Italy to spot trees infected with Xylella fastidiosa, the deadly bacterium that has been devastating the country’s olive crops for almost a decade. The sensors will be able to detect almost indiscernible signs of early infection, such as very slight changes in colour to the leaves, allowing farmers to cull affected trees and prevent outbreaks. More than 300,000 trees will be examined using the new drone technology in the next few months. “This technology has the potential to give the Italian government a major advantage in the fight against Xylella,” says Manuela Matarrese at DTA, a research consortium involved in the project. “We tend to realise far too late if a plant is infected – these drone sensors will allow us to spot and prevent outbreaks rather than just react to them.” Early detection strategies like this are key for reining in Xylella, which is spread by spittlebugs that feed on infected plants, ingesting bacteria and passing them to healthy plants nearby. Once the bacteria have infected a plant, they block the xylem vessels that transport water through the plant, cutting off its ability to absorb water and, eventually, killing it. “Xylella is particularly dangerous because it has many different natural hosts through which it can spread,” says Andrea Maiorano, a plant health expert at the European Food Safety Authority in Italy. “There are hundreds of different plant species that can host it.” The first olive tree became infected in Italy in 2013, in the region of Puglia, on the southern edge of the country. Researchers now believe the bacterium arrived via ornamental coffee plants that entered Europe from abroad. Within two years, it had spread so rapidly that it threatened to destroy the entire region’s livelihood. Millions of olive trees died and thousands more had to be culled to prevent further spread.

4-14-22 Antibiotic-resistant acne could be treated by phage therapy
The bacterium that causes acne is becoming resistant to antibiotics, but a study in mice suggests that adding viruses to acne treatments can restore their effectiveness. It is getting harder to treat acne because the bacterium that causes it is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Adding viruses that kill this bacterium to acne treatments could restore their effectiveness, an animal study suggests, however. “I myself have suffered from acne,” says Amit Rimon at the Israeli Phage Therapy Center, based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “It might be cosmetic but it can have a major psychological impact.” Certain strains of a bacterium called Cutibacterium acnes are thought to be the main cause of acne, and cases of acne are often treated with antibiotics applied to the skin or swallowed as a pill, or both. But these standard treatments are becoming less effective as C. acnes becomes resistant to the antibiotics used. So Rimon and his colleagues isolated eight types of bacteriophages, viruses that infect and kill various types of bacteria. When a single type of phage was used to treat strains of C. acnes growing in culture, the bacteria sometimes developed resistance to the phage. However, when multiple types of phages were combined with antibiotics, they completely eradicated the antibiotic-resistant C. acnes. Next, the team infected the skin of mice with C. acnes and showed that applying one of their phages to their skin resulted in improvements compared with controls. The team thinks this is the first demonstration that applying phages to the skin can help treat C. acnes. The team now hopes to develop this into a treatment for people with acne, says Rimon. “We currently are trying to find investors and drug companies that are interested in taking phages to market.”

4-14-22 People tend to believe populations are more diverse than they are
In 12 psychological experiments with a total of 942 participants, 82 per cent overestimated the presence of individuals from minority ethnic groups. People may subconsciously overestimate the presence of individuals from minority ethnic groups, even if they belong to those groups, which could create illusions of diversity within populations. “Individuals from the minority group are by definition less frequent,” says Rasha Kardosh at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. “Therefore, we are more likely to notice them and so are more likely to remember their presence, and so we end up overestimating their presence.” Previous studies suggest people in European countries overestimate the Muslim population in those countries, while people in the US generally overestimate the number of people from ethnic minority groups in its population. To uncover why this overestimation may occur, Kardosh and her colleagues carried out 12 psychological experiments with a total of 942 participants. In one experiment, white people in the US were shown 100 faces, of which 25 per cent were Black people and the remaining 75 per cent were white, for 2 seconds. This was repeated 20 times with different sets of faces. The experiment was then carried out again, but this time 45 per cent of the faces were Black people and the remaining 55 per cent were white. After both experiments, the participants were asked what percentage of faces they saw were Black people, estimating 43 per cent for the first experiment and 58 per cent for the second. The researchers then repeated both experiments with Black participants seeing the various faces, who estimated 43 per cent and 56 per cent of the faces were Black people in the first and second experiments, respectively.

4-14-22 This hieroglyph is the oldest known record of the Maya calendar
The system is still used today, a testament to the persistence of Maya knowledge. Buried within the Las Pinturas pyramid in San Bartolo, Guatemala, thousands of painted plaster mural fragments offer a window into ancient Maya civilization. Two of those fragments form the earliest known record of a Maya calendar, created between 300 and 200 B.C. The fragments depict the date of “7 Deer” from the 260-day sacred calendar common across ancient Mesoamerica and still used today by indigenous communities in Guatemala and southern Mexico, archaeologist David Stuart and colleagues report April 13 in Science Advances. The calendar system’s longevity attests to the persistence of Maya intellectual culture, says Stuart, of the University of Texas at Austin. From 400 B.C. to 100 A.D., Mayas razed and rebuilt the pyramid seven times, creating a series of discrete time capsules stacked on top of each other, says study coauthor Heather Hurst, project director of the San Bartolo-Xultun Regional Archaeological Project. By radiocarbon dating both the material in the layer where the calendar fragments were found and the material used to bury that layer, researchers determined a narrow time window in which the 7 Deer day record would have been produced. After two decades of excavation, the site continues to be an important source of ancient Maya artifacts. The earliest known Maya writing, also dated to between 300 and 200 B.C., was found in the same time capsule as the 7 Deer day record (SN: 1/17/06). The 260-day calendar system “survived not only close to 1,800 years in the Maya world before the Spanish showed up, but it persisted even more recently, since conquests . . . in some of the most oppressed areas,” Stuart says. “I find that an incredible thing.”

4-13-22 Earliest evidence for Maya calendar may have been found in Guatemala
The earliest evidence of calendar use by the Maya may have been found in the remains of an ancient temple in Guatemala. Two pieces of an ancient wall may preserve the earliest evidence of the Maya calendar. The fragments are decorated with a dot and line above a deer head – representing one of the dates from the 260-day calendar – and they are from a temple built between 2300 and 2200 years ago in what is now Guatemala in central America. Several ancient communities living across the Americas – including the Aztecs, Maya, Mixtecs and Zapotecs – tracked the time using cycles of 13 days denoted by numbers, alongside cycles of 20 days named after gods. In this calendar, a specific day is assigned both a number and a name, producing 260 unique days before the cycle repeats. It is thought that people used the calendar to decide when to hold ceremonies, to mark important dates or to attempt to predict future events. Until now, most previous early evidence for calendar use by these ancient people had been found on stone monuments dating to around 100 BC. David Stuart at the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues have now found evidence that the Maya people may have used this calendar over a century earlier. The team previously discovered the San Bartolo archaeological site, which includes a pyramid called Las Pinturas – meaning “the paintings” – back in 2001. Excavations then revealed that the Maya completed several phases of construction, with earlier structures eventually knocked down to form the foundations of the pyramid. When the researchers were sorting through pieces of plaster collected from the pyramid’s foundations, they realised that two pieces fit perfectly together to form a date symbol. “That was a stunner – we believe that this is the earliest example of the use of the Maya calendar, showing the day seven Deer,” says Stuart.

4-13-22 Wired for Love review: A neuroscientist investigates her marriage
This moving book sees neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo explore the effect on her cognitive functioning when she fell in love with a fellow scientist. SHE studied love, he researched loneliness – it was such a perfect match it could have been made in a lab. When Stephanie Ortigue met John T. Cacioppo at a neuroscience conference in Shanghai, both knew their whirlwind romance would be influenced by their research and inform it in turn. It was 2011. Stephanie was 36, and publishing papers on pair-bonding and romantic love, despite having never known it herself. “I assumed I would never experience romance outside the laboratory,” she writes. John was an expert on the dangers of loneliness to physical and mental well-being, and, at 60, was twice divorced, “not lonely, but by myself”, he said. Both were self-avowed workaholics until they found love, and almost at first sight. “And once I did, my life and my research were changed forever,” writes Stephanie (who took her husband’s name). Now, in Wired for Love, Cacioppo moves away from case studies and turns her scientific attention onto her marriage. Her book is “both the story of my science, and the science behind my story”. As a tale of romance, it is epic, culminating in a spur-of-the-moment wedding in the Luxembourg Garden in Paris and a profile in the popular Modern Love column in The New York Times. But what takes the Cacioppos’ story beyond a heart-warming reminder to never lose hope are their professional insights into our brains in love. Through their courtship and marriage, Stephanie and John studied themselves, observing and noting “the intention, the subtext underlying every step we took as a fledgling couple” and its effect on cognitive functioning. In Wired for Love, Cacioppo explores their findings with critical distance. What was behind their instant attraction? How could they feel so close when they were often oceans apart? Would they have fallen in love if they hadn’t found each other physically attractive? What part did their expectations play? And for two people who thought themselves in love with their work, how did the real thing compare?

4-13-22 How interior design choices can boost your mental and physical health
Neuroscientists have figured out what interior design choices, from flooring to lighting, can help create homes that improve our mental health, decrease stress and fatigue, and even spark creativity. YOU might recognise the sensation from visits to a friend’s house – the feeling that a space is good for you. Perhaps it is a sense of profound relaxation, as if you left your worries at the door. Or you may have found the perfect office space that leaves you buzzing with creative ideas. Yet try to explain why you felt that way, or recreate those effects at home, and you fall short. According to the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui, there are rules of harmonious living that affect the flow of energy through your body, and many modern design gurus take a similar line, dishing out guidance in lifestyle magazines and Instagram accounts. They advise on the shape of rooms, materials in furnishings, colours on walls and organisation of books – it may make your home look good, but does it make you feel good? While there is nothing wrong with going with your gut when it comes to decor, there could be a better way to make design choices. A growing number of neuroscientists are collaborating with architects and interior designers. With carefully controlled experiments using objective physiological and psychological measures, they are starting to systematically test the influence of design elements on brain and body. The work couldn’t be timelier. The rise of remote working has meant more time at home for many. Whether you want to boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, decrease your bad habits or ease the burden of dementia, this research can provide evidence-based strategies to optimise your living space for your physical and mental health.

4-13-22 Women in a 19th-century Dutch farming village didn't breastfeed
An analysis of bones from about 500 individuals who died between 1830 and 1867 in Middenbeemster suggests women in the dairy farming community did not breastfeed. Women from a 19th-century farming community in the Netherlands probably didn’t breastfeed their babies because they were too busy working. It is the first time that widespread artificial feeding has been discovered in a farming community from this period. Andrea Waters-Rist at Western University in Canada and her colleagues analysed the bones of about 500 individuals who died between 1830 and 1867 in Middenbeemster, a rural village in the north of the Netherlands. The remains were dug up because a church was expanding into the cemetery, and Waters-Rist and her team were offered the chance to analyse them. They also had death certificates for about half the people. “It’s really rare to have such a large sample size and to have all this amazing archival information,” she says. The researchers wanted to find out more about the diets of the women and children in this village, which mainly consisted of dairy farmers at this time. “One of the main reasons behind this type of research is to rectify the historical record about the lives of women and children,” says Waters-Rist. “Traditional archaeology has focused on what adult males were doing and women were just seen as passive actors.” The team was able to determine whether the children were breastfed by analysing the chemical isotopes in their bones. Children who are breastfed have different carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios to their mothers. Out of 20 children who had died before the age of 1, 15 showed no evidence of breastfeeding. “Even the five who did show some sign – it did not seem like they were breastfed for long,” says Waters-Rist. And out of 35 children aged between 1 and 6, 29 showed no signs of breastfeeding in their bones. The team believes this was probably due to the fact that women predominantly worked the farms in this community, milking and raising the cows.

4-13-22 Tiny structures in rock may be fossils of earliest known life on Earth
A centimetre-long branching structure found in a rock dated to at least 3.75 billion years ago may be the earliest evidence for life on Earth, although not everyone agrees. Tiny structures found in a rock that is at least 3.75 billion years old may support the idea that microbial life on Earth originated around underwater hydrothermal vents – but the findings are controversial. Exactly when and how life emerged on Earth is widely debated. All we know is that it occurred sometime after Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago and before the earliest confirmed microbial fossils appeared around 3.4 billion years ago. Where on Earth life began is also in question. Some researchers believe microbes first sprang up around hydrothermal vents, where iron-rich water heated by magma passes through cracks in the sea floor. Others think life began in hot geothermal ponds found on land. And some believe life was transported to Earth through objects travelling from elsewhere in the universe, an idea known as panspermia. In 2017, Dominic Papineau at University College London and his colleagues analysed rocks collected from the coast of northern Quebec, Canada, in an area known as the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone belt. By imaging sections of rock, the team found tiny tubes and filaments made of iron oxide – or rust – that resembled structures formed by bacteria that live in deep-sea hydrothermal vents today. Now, the researchers have analysed a fist-sized rock from the same site by slicing it into pieces that are more than twice as thick as before – around 100 micrometres wide. This allowed them to get a bigger picture of the structures in the samples, which revealed a centimetre-long pattern of corkscrew-shaped iron filaments, arranged as a stem with parallel branches.

4-12-22 A single mutation could make Zika virus a lot more dangerous
Lab experiments have identified a mutation that would make the mosquito-borne Zika virus more infectious and virulent, a finding that will inform genomic surveillance. A single mutation could make the mosquito-borne Zika virus a lot more infectious and dangerous. Zika typically causes few symptoms, if any, in adults, but if infection occurs during pregnancy it can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with a small head and sometimes brain damage. An outbreak in late 2015 led to the virus being linked to microcephaly in over 30 countries. Sujan Shresta at La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California and her colleagues wanted to mimic the infection cycle of the virus to see how it could mutate in the future. To do this, they repeatedly switched the virus back and forth between mosquito and mouse cells. The researchers also wanted to see if the virus evolved differently in mice that had been previously exposed to dengue virus, which causes dengue fever. Zika virus is more common in countries where dengue virus is also prevalent, says Shresta. This is probably because both viruses are spread by the same types of mosquitoes and both are part of the flavivirus family. “People who have been exposed to dengue fever have short-term protection against Zika,” says Shresta. The researchers found that the same mutant form of the Zika virus developed in mouse cells that had been exposed to dengue virus and those that hadn’t. The fact it happened in both groups suggests this part of the virus’s genome is a mutation hotspot, says Shresta. The team then infected several pregnant mice with the mutant virus, and found that it was more infectious and more virulent. This means that the virus has a greater chance of crossing the placenta and infecting fetuses, says Shresta.

4-12-22 Meningitis vaccine may be a new weapon against 'super-gonorrhoea'
Two studies have found that young people who received a vaccine for meningitis have a lower rate of infection with gonorrhoea, which is caused by a related bacterium. A vaccine used to prevent meningitis in young people also cuts the rate of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) gonorrhoea, which is caused by a related bacterium. The vaccine’s effect is relatively modest, lowering rates of the STI by up to 40 per cent, but it could still have a useful impact on rates of the infection, especially as antibiotic-resistant cases are on the rise, says Helen Marshall at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia. Gonorrhoea, also known as the clap, can cause pain and discharge from the genitals in men or women, but in up to half of women and a tenth of men it causes no symptoms. Left untreated, it can cause infertility in women and blindness in babies born to infected mothers. The STI is proving increasingly hard to treat, because the bacteria are becoming more resistant to standard antibiotics. Even after successful treatment, people may get repeated reinfections. Some “super-gonorrhoea” strains are resistant to nearly all possible antibiotics. The meningitis vaccine, called 4CMenB, was designed to target a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis, which is a cause of brain infections, and is closely related to the gonorrhoea-causing Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Some of the antibodies generated by the meningitis vaccine bind to the gonorrhoea bacteria. The 4CMenB vaccine was introduced in Australia for people aged between 17 and 20 in 2019. Marshall’s team compared the rates of gonorrhoea in people who did or didn’t get the meningitis vaccine. This showed that receiving the two required doses of the vaccine reduced the chances of getting gonorrhoea by 33 per cent.

4-12-22 Stress-testing sausages may give vegan products a meat-like mouthfeel
Plant-based alternatives to sausages can sometimes lack the textures of meat products, and testing the mechanical properties of the foods explains why. Mimicking the mouth’s mechanical properties in the lab helps explain why plant-based sausages don’t quite feel the same when you eat them as meat-based ones – while also providing tips that could help make their texture more meat-like. Despite recent improvements, plant-based sausages are still very different from meat versions in the eyes – and the mouths – of many people. But because the ways that sausages interact with the mouth and taste buds are so complex – not to mention the molecular complexity of the sausage itself – working out how to make plant-based alternatives more meat-like is a difficult task. Thomas Vilgis at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany and his colleagues measured the different physical properties of three sausages from the same manufacturer – one meat, one vegetarian with egg white and one purely plant-based – to better understand how their underlying structure affected so-called mouthfeel. They applied a number of different mechanical forces to the sausage samples to simulate the mouth environment, such as compression, stretching and friction. “Massive proteins which are [present] in [meat] sausages behave differently on a molecular scale compared to plant-based proteins,” says Vilgis. “This is always a problem in plant-based foods because they will never resemble a meat product on a molecular scale.” Vilgis and his team found that the meat sausages slid more easily under friction than the plant and vegetarian versions, which he suggests is because the meat has more available fat that isn’t bound up in the molecular structure. The meat sausages were also more elastic under compression because of different protein structures, says Vilgis.

4-11-22 Shoulder growth may slow during human development to make birth easier
CT scans of humans, chimpanzees and macaques reveal that human collarbones slow their growth rate in the final months of pregnancy, perhaps to make it easier for babies to squeeze through the pelvis. The collarbones of a human fetus grow more slowly just before birth, with growth then speeding up again during early childhood – probably an evolutionary compromise that allows humans’ relatively wide shoulders to fit through the pelvis. Broad shoulders may help us with our balance and our ability to throw, and might even help us breathe more effectively. But a fetus with broad shoulders poses a problem during childbirth, because our upright posture has led humans to develop a relatively narrow pelvis. The newly discovered slow-down-then-catch-up-later growth pattern in human clavicles – collarbones – around the time of birth appears to resolve this “shoulder mystery”, says Naoki Morimoto at Kyoto University in Japan. “There are two things that make human childbirth difficult: a big head and wide shoulders,” he says. “Since [difficult birth] is dangerous… it is sensible to think that humans evolved some ways to ease the problem.” Previous studies have shown that the heads of human fetuses grow at fast rates in the uterus and then slow down just before birth, he says, which is a trend seen in other primates too – although human heads start to slow down their growth very late compared with other primates. Curious to know whether the shoulders grow in a similar way, Morimoto and his colleagues examined CT scans of 81 humans (Homo sapiens), 64 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and 31 Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata). About half of these subjects were fetuses at various stages of development starting from about the beginning of the second trimester. The others were infants and adults. The team measured the lengths of various bones in the skull, shoulders, upper arm, pelvis, thigh and vertebral column. Generally speaking, the vertebral column’s growth isn’t affected by birth constraints, so it serves as a good basis of comparison for the growth rates of the other bones, says Morimoto.

4-11-22 MS reversed by transplanted immune cells that fight Epstein-Barr virus
In a small trial, immune cells that fight the Epstein-Barr virus have stopped the progression of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition that can lead to symptoms, such as difficulty walking, that worsen over time. Transplants of immune cells that target the Epstein-Barr virus have shown promise for treating multiple sclerosis in an early stage trial. Brain scans suggest the progression of the condition was reversed in some participants, but this needs to be confirmed by larger trials. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is caused by someone’s own immune system attacking the myelin coating that helps nerve cells conduct signals, causing a range of symptoms from fatigue to difficulty walking. In most cases, people have relapses, suddenly getting worse but then gradually improving again. In around 1 in 10 people with MS, symptoms get progressively worse with no relapses. While some treatments can slow the course of relapsing MS, there are few treatments for progressive MS. In an initial trial, US firm Atara Biotherapeutics gave 24 people with progressive MS injections of T-cells that seek out and destroy cells infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, the cause of glandular fever or mono. The cells are extracted from donors who had previously had an infection of Epstein-Barr virus, and are immunologically matched to avoid rejection. In a presentation on 22 March, Atara said that 20 of the people who received the injections saw their condition either stabilise or improve. The results were also previously presented at a conference. The phase I trial didn’t include a control group to rule out the placebo effect. But AJ Joshi, Atara’s chief medical officer, says that in addition to the effect on symptoms, MRI brain scans using a technique called Magnetisation Transfer Ratio (MTR) suggest that there was remyelination of nerve cells – that is, the myelin around them regrew to some extent.

4-11-22 Mystery outbreak of hepatitis in children investigated in the UK
There has been a cluster of cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, among young children in the UK, which could be linked to an unknown infection. Doctors are investigating a mysterious outbreak of liver disease in young children in the UK. So far, there have been 60 cases in England and 11 in Scotland of unexplained hepatitis, or liver inflammation, since the start of the year, most of them in children who are 2 to 5 years old. Case numbers in Wales and Northern Ireland haven’t been released. Although no child has died, a “small number” have needed a liver transplant, said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on 8 April. This means they will have to take drugs that suppress the immune system for the rest of their lives, which will leave them at risk of infections. Hepatitis is often associated with specific pathogens, such as the hepatitis C virus, but it can be triggered by many other things. There have previously been small clusters of cases caused by the hepatitis A virus, which can be spread by faecal contamination of food or water. The hepatitis viruses A to E have all been ruled out in the current outbreak, though. Finding the cause will require carefully investigating every case to see if they have factors in common, says Graham Cooke, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London. The outbreak might have been caused by a rare delayed reaction to covid-19 infection, or by a different infection spreading after pandemic-related lockdown restrictions were lifted. “There is probably a group of children who won’t have been exposed to all those viruses they would normally be exposed to in early life,” says Cooke. “With the easing of restrictions, a lot of other viruses are circulating that weren’t able to circulate before.

4-8-22 Anti-ageing technique makes skin cells act 30 years younger
Skin cells have been exposed to molecules that reverse their development but still retain their function, creating a kind of stem cell that keeps its original function in the body. Researchers have developed a method that can turn back the biological clock on skin cells by 30 years, creating stem cells from mature ones, which could be used to treat skin conditions in the future. In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan developed a technique that could transform adult skins cells into stem cells by inserting four specialist molecules, dubbed “Yamanaka factors”, that reverse cell development. It takes around 50 days of exposure to these molecules for normal cells to be reprogrammed into what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). “When you turn to a cell into an iPSC, you lose the original cell type and its functionality,” says Diljeet Gill at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK. Gill and his colleagues have now devised a technique that uses Yamanaka factors to rejuvenate skin cells without losing their previous functionality. The researchers collected skin cell samples from three human donors that had an average age of around 50, then exposed these to the Yamanaka factors for just 13 days to partially anti-age the cells. They then removed the Yamanaka factors and left the cells to grow. As we age, our DNA gets tagged with chemicals, so tracking these markers can help us determine how old our bodies are. This is known as our epigenetic clock. Over time, some of our genes will either turn on or off, the collection of which is known as the transcriptome.Gill and his team found that the epigenetic clock and transcriptome profiles of the partially reprogrammed cells matched the profiles of skin cells that belonged to people who were 30 years younger. The rejuvenated cells also functioned like younger ones, too, creating more collagen than those that didn’t undergo reprogramming. And when placed onto an artificial wound, the reprogrammed cells moved to close the gap much quicker than the younger ones did.

4-8-22 Rejuvenation of woman's skin could tackle diseases of ageing
Researchers have rejuvenated a 53-year-old woman's skin cells so they are the equivalent of a 23-year-old's. The scientists in Cambridge believe that they can do the same thing with other tissues in the body. The eventual aim is to develop treatments for age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and neurological disorders. The technology is built on the techniques used to create Dolly the cloned sheep more than 25 years ago. The head of the team, Prof Wolf Reik, of the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, told BBC News that he hoped that the technique could eventually be used to keep people healthier for longer as they grow older. "We have been dreaming about this kind of thing. Many common diseases get worse with age and to think about helping people in this way is super exciting," he said. Prof Reich stressed though that the work, which has been published in the journal eLife, was at a very early stage. He said that there were several scientific issues to overcome before it could move out of his lab and into the clinic. But he said that demonstrating for the first time that cell rejuvenation is possible was a critical step forward. The origins of the technique stem from the 1990s, when researchers at the Roslin Institute just outside Edinburgh developed a method of turning an adult mammary gland cell taken from a sheep into an embryo. It led to the creation of Dolly the cloned sheep. The Roslin team's aim was not to create clones of sheep or indeed humans, but to use the technique to create so-called human embryonic stem cells. These, they hoped, could be grown into specific tissues, such as muscle, cartilage, and nerve cells to replace worn-out body parts. The Dolly technique was made simpler in 2006 by Prof Shinya Yamanaka, then at Kyoto University. The new method, called IPS, involved adding chemicals to adult cells for around 50 days. This resulted in genetic changes that turned the adult cells into stem cells.

4-8-22 Listening to friends tell you about their dreams helps develop empathy
Most ideas about the function of dreams involve memory consolidation or managing emotions, but dreams may also serve to increase our sense of togetherness when they are shared with others. Sharing dreams may serve a purpose. A study finds that describing the content of our dreams or nightmares – whether boring or truly bizarre – may function to bond people and groups together, and that listening and responding to the strange content of dreams can increase empathy. It even proposes that dream-sharing helped the process of human self-domestication, where people evolved greater self-control, less aggressive tendencies and a keener sense of empathy for others. “The empathy/human self-domestication theory proposes that once dreams started to be told, this would add a new evolutionary pressure to have dreams that involved plots, social life references and bizarreness, that is, dreams that were interesting to others and resulted in the dreamer disclosing their inner life,” says Mark Blagrove at Swansea University, UK, who developed the concept with co-author Julia Lockheart at the University of Wales in the UK. Most of the ideas around the function of dreams have involved processes that occur during sleep, such as memory consolidation, or processing and managing our emotions. Decades of work around the function of dreams have considered the benefits, or drawbacks, they bring the person having the dream, as well as the effect dreams may have on sleep quality. Far less work, if any, has considered the benefit that might accrue between people and groups and after waking up. Blagrove and Lockheart conducted a study with 54 people, who were paired up, with one of them sharing their dream with the other. Before and after the dream-sharing, the participants answered a survey to determine how much empathy they had for their partner. After listening and discussing the dream, the participants’ self-rated empathy increased significantly towards the person sharing their dream. “For an overall increase in mutual empathy, both of the pair would need to share dreams,” says Blagrove.

4-7-22 Rat pups born from sperm artificially produced from stem cells
Rat sperm cells derived from stem cells in the lab were used to fertilise eggs and produce healthy offspring for the first time in a procedure that could be used in conservation. Rat sperm cells generated from stem cells in the lab have been used to produce fertile offspring for the first time. The approach could be adapted to rescue endangered rodents and may help to inform the artificial production of human sperm to treat infertility. Until now, cells that give rise to sperm and egg cells, called germ cells, have only been produced in the lab in mice. Toshihiro Kobayashi at the University of Tokyo and his colleagues have now shown that stem cells extracted from rat embryos can be grown in the lab to produce germ cells that form sperm when implanted into rat testes. The researchers then collected the sperm cells and injected them into egg cells, before implanting the fertilised embryos into female rats. These grew into healthy adult rats that were able to have offspring of their own. “Until recently, we didn’t know enough about how rat germ cells develop in order to adapt the mouse procedure for rats. Now, we understand more about what proteins and growth factors are needed to generate the rat germ cells, so we could do this work,” says Kobayashi. Next, the team hopes to uncover the common principles in sperm generation that are shared across rats and mice, which could help inform the development of similar techniques in other mammals, such as pigs and humans, says Kobayashi. Such research could then be used to gain insight into how human germ cells develop and what goes wrong to cause infertility, he says. The team is also working towards artificially generating rat egg cells. However, rats and mice are more similar to each other than humans, and the artificial production of human sperm and eggs may be several decades away.

4-8-22 Strange sauropod dinosaurs had sails on top of their long necks
Amargasaurus was an unusual long-necked sauropod dinosaur with pairs of 60-centimetre-tall spines on its neck bones – and we now know they supported neck sails. Sauropod dinosaurs gravitated towards a shared body shape: a massive, barrel-like torso with a long, tapered tail and neck extending from either end. But new research indicates that at least some sauropod species also sported tall sails along the back of their necks. Fossil remains of several so-called “dicraeosaurid” sauropods described over the past century revealed that these animals had strange neck vertebrae, equipped with long, two-pronged spines that extended upwards. It has been suggested that the puzzling structures acted as supports for a thick hump of tissue, a membranous sail or even the bony cores for keratin-based horns like those displayed by goats and antelopes today. To help decide which interpretation is most likely, a team in Argentina led by Ignacio Cerda at the Carlos Ameghino Provincial Museum in Cipolletti studied the spines in great anatomical detail. The researchers examined the vertebrae of Amargasaurus — a sauropod unearthed in Argentina that lived a little under 130 million years ago and was adorned with tall neck spines — and the fragmentary remains of another dicraeosaur of an undetermined species. They described the spines’ external features and, by taking very thin slices of the bone, they analysed their microscopic internal characteristics too. Rather than being deeply grooved like the bone cores seen in modern horned animals, the sauropod spines had relatively smooth surfaces. Also, as seen in cross-section, the spines had growth signatures that showed they had changed shape as the animal grew. This wouldn’t be possible if the spines had originally formed the core of keratin-coated horns, since a keratin sheath would be made of non-living tissue that couldn’t morph its shape to match changes to the bone underneath.

4-8-22 A hole in a Triceratops named Big John probably came from combat
The puncture adds to evidence that the three-horned dinosaurs battled each other. A gaping hole in the bony frill of a Triceratops dubbed “Big John” may be a battle scar from one of his peers. The frill that haloes the head of Triceratops is an iconic part of its look. Equally iconic, at least to paleontologists, are the holes that mar the headgear. For over a century, researchers have debated various explanations for the holes, called fenestrae — from battle scars to natural aging processes. Now, a microscopic analysis of Big John’s partially healed lesion suggests that it could be a traumatic injury from a fight with another Triceratops, researchers report April 7 in Scientific Reports. In summer 2021, Flavio Bacchia, director of Zoic LLC in Trieste, Italy, was reconstructing the skeleton of Big John, the largest known Triceratops to date, when he noticed a keyhole-shaped fenestra on the right side of its frill. Bacchia then reached out to Ruggero D’Anastasio, a paleopathologist at the “G. D’Annunzio” University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy who studies injuries and diseases in ancient human and other animal remains. “When I saw, for the first time, the opening, I realized that there was something strange,” D’Anastasio says. In particular, the irregular margins of the hole were odd. He had never seen anything like it. To analyze the fossilized tissues around the fenestra, he obtained a piece of bone about the size of a 9-volt battery, cut from the bottom of the keyhole. The rest of Big John sold at an auction for $7.7 million — the most expensive non–Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur fossil ever. Looking at the bone under a scanning electron microscope, D’Anastasio and his team found evidence consistent with the formation processes of new bone that are usually observed in mammals. New bone growth is typically supported by blood vessels, and in the bone near the border of the hole, the tissue was porous and strewn with vascular canals. Farther from the fenestra, the bone showed little evidence of the vessels.

4-7-22 A triceratops called Big John seems to have been stabbed in the head
A famous triceratops skeleton that was auctioned recently for $7.7 million has an injury to its head shield that probably came from another triceratops. Triceratops dinosaurs probably did fight each other using their horns, according to a new study of fossilised bones with evidence of injuries sustained during life. Palaeontologists have long suspected that the horns were used for combat, but the new analysis strengthens the case. Triceratops was among the last non-bird dinosaurs to live on Earth, just before they were all wiped out 66 million years ago. It was a four-footed plant-eater with a bony neck frill and three horns on its face: one on the snout and one over each eye. Over the years several studies have suggested that triceratops fought using its horns, perhaps by locking them together and wrestling. This was based on triceratops fossils that showed large-scale damage, as if from impacts. Ruggero D’Anastasio of the D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy and his colleagues have examined a Triceratops horridus specimen nicknamed Big John, which was discovered in 2014 and was sold last year to a private collector. There is a large hole in the right side of Big John’s neck frill. D’Anastasio’s team found evidence of newly formed bone around the edges of the hole, as well as signs of inflammation. This suggests Big John experienced the injury while still alive, and that the wound partially healed before the animal’s death. What caused the injury? “The shape and size of the lesion coincides perfectly with those of a triceratops horn similar in size to Big John,” says D’Anastasio. This implies that Big John fought another triceratops, and during the battle it punctured Big John’s neck frill with its horn.

4-7-22 Covid: Blood clot risk higher for six months after having virus
After a Covid infection, there is an increased risk of developing a serious blood clot for the next six months, a study from Sweden suggests. The research found people with severe Covid, and those infected during the first wave, had the highest clot risk. This highlights the importance of being vaccinated against the virus, the researchers say. Blood clots can also occur after vaccination but the risk is far smaller, a major UK study found. People who have had Covid-19 are more likely to develop a blood clot - particularly patients who have needed hospital treatment. Scientists wanted to find out when that risk returns to normal levels. The researchers tracked the health of just over one million people who tested positive for Covid between February 2020 and May 2021 in Sweden, and compared them with four million people of the same age and sex who had not had a positive test. After a Covid infection, they found an increased risk of: blood clots in the leg, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), for up to three months, blood clots in the lungs, or pulmonary embolism, for up to six months, internal bleeding, such as a stroke, for up to two months. When the researchers compared the risks of blood clots after Covid to the normal level of risk, they found that: four in every 10,000 Covid patients developed DVT compared with one in every 10,000 people who didn't have Covid, about 17 in every 10,000 Covid patients had a blood clot in the lung compared with fewer than one in every 10,000 who did not have Covid. The study, published in the BMJ, said the raised risk of blood clots was higher in the first wave than later waves, probably because treatments improved during the pandemic and older patients were starting to be vaccinated by the second wave. The risk of a blood clot in the lung in people who were very seriously ill with Covid was 290 times greater than normal, and seven times higher than normal after mild Covid. But there was no raised risk of internal bleeding in mild cases.

4-7-22 Covid-19 news: Severe blood clot risk rises 33-fold after infection
A regular round-up of the latest coronavirus news, plus insight, features and interviews from New Scientist about the covid-19 pandemic. The risk of a potentially life-threatening lung clot increases 33-fold within a month of being infected. Ioannis Katsoularis and his colleagues at Umeå University in Sweden tracked more than 1 million people in Sweden who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus between February 2020 and May 2021. They compared the health outcomes of this group with 4 million people, also living in Sweden, who had not had a positive covid-19 test. Regardless of the severity of a person’s covid-19 symptoms, the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) within 30 days of infection increased five-fold, persisting at this level for three months. DVT is a blood clot in a vein, usually in the leg, which can break off and travel to the lungs. This can cause a pulmonary embolism, which blocks blood flow to the lungs. For pulmonary embolism specifically, a positive covid-19 test was found to raise the risk of the condition 33-fold, persisting at this level for six months, compared with the participants who never tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus. An estimated 1.7 million people in the UK, about 2.7 per cent of the population, have long covid, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey. The survey participants self-reported any long covid symptoms, defined as those that persist for more than four weeks after a suspected SARS-CoV-2 virus infection and cannot be explained by something else. Of these, 1.1 million said their long covid symptoms adversely affect their day-to-day activities, with 322,000 saying their ability to perform daily activities has been “limited by a lot”. Males in the Bangladeshi ethnic group have the highest covid-19 mortality rate in England, according to ONS data. These males are 2.7 times more likely to die from covid-19 than their white British counterparts. Among females, people in the Pakistani ethnic group are 2.5 times more likely to die from covid-19 than their white British counterparts. Disparities in mortality rates between different ethnic groups may be down to varying vaccine uptake.

4-7-22 Tanis: Fossil of dinosaur killed in asteroid strike found, scientists claim
Scientists have presented a stunningly preserved leg of a dinosaur. The limb, complete with skin, is just one of a series of remarkable finds emerging from the Tanis fossil site in the US State of North Dakota. But it's not just their exquisite condition that's turning heads - it's what these ancient specimens purport to represent. The claim is the Tanis creatures were killed and entombed on the actual day a giant asteroid struck Earth. The day 66 million years ago when the reign of the dinosaurs ended and the rise of mammals began. Very few dinosaur remains have been found in the rocks that record even the final few thousand years before the impact. To have a specimen from the cataclysm itself would be extraordinary. The BBC has spent three years filming at Tanis for a show to be broadcast on 15 April, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Sir David will review the discoveries, many that will be getting their first public viewing. Along with that leg, there are fish that breathed in impact debris as it rained down from the sky. We see a fossil turtle that was skewered by a wooden stake; the remains of small mammals and the burrows they made; skin from a horned triceratops; the embryo of a flying pterosaur inside its egg; and what appears to be a fragment from the asteroid impactor itself. "We've got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it's almost like watching it play out in the movies. You look at the rock column, you look at the fossils there, and it brings you back to that day," says Robert DePalma, the University of Manchester, UK, graduate student who leads the Tanis dig. It's now widely accepted that a roughly 12km-wide space rock hit our planet to cause the last mass extinction. The impact site has been identified in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Yucatan Peninsula. That's some 3,000km away from Tanis, but such was the energy imparted in the event, its devastation was felt far and wide. The North Dakota fossil site is a chaotic jumble. The remains of animals and plants seem to have been rolled together into a sediment dump by waves of river water set in train by unimaginable earth tremors. Aquatic organisms are mixed in with the land-based creatures.

4-6-22 Why does music evoke certain emotions, even if it doesn’t have lyrics?
Music is a wide-reaching stimulus for humans, activating many regions of our brain. Even without lyrics, the melodies and rhythms of music have a big impact. When listening to classical music, we may feel relaxed when a chord meets its climax, happy when the pitches of notes remind us of emotions or old memories and scared as the brain’s amygdala region becomes active and releases stress and anxiety hormones. I think that, in some societies at least, people are trained to associate certain emotions with particular types of music by movies and television, because of the formulaic way it is frequently used in them: violins for sad scenes; loud, dramatic orchestral music with lots of percussion for battle scenes; etc. It would be interesting to see whether people with limited exposure to such media have similar emotional responses to the same music. Music possibly predates language as we know it today. Our pre-linguistic hominin ancestors may have used musical features, such as pitch, rhythm and timbre, to communicate intentions and transmit emotions. From an evolutionary point of view, these musical features carry an emotional value that may be essential for survival. This would explain why music without lyrics can evoke strong emotions. Music has tone and rhythm, much like the human voice. We use this to interpret a speaker’s emotions, not just their words. This is why Dos Oruguitas is so effective at provoking tears in the English version of the Disney film Encanto, even if you don’t speak Spanish. The musicality of vocalisation is the real communicator across cultures, species and the world, not the words. The neuroscience of “affective prosody”, the musicality of spoken language, reveals the circuits involved: these are parts of the brain known to underpin emotional processing and perception, including the thalamus, the basal ganglia and the cingulate, temporal and frontal cortices.

4-6-22 The replication crisis has spread through science – can it be fixed?
It started in psychology, but now findings in many scientific fields are proving impossible to replicate. Here's what researchers are doing to restore science's reputation. I HAVE a confession to make: some of the articles that have appeared in New Scientist, including ones I have written, are wrong. Not because we deliberately misled you. No, our reports were based on research by respected scientists at top universities, published in peer-reviewed journals. Yet, despite meeting all the normal standards of credibility, some findings turned out to be false. Science is in the throes of what is sometimes called the replication crisis, so named because a big hint that a scientific study is wrong is when other teams try to repeat it and get a different result. While some fields, such as psychology, initially seemed more liable than others to generate such “fake news”, almost every area of science has since come under suspicion. An entire field of genetics has even turned out to be nothing but a mirage. Of course, we should expect testing to overturn some findings. The replication crisis, though, stems from wholesale flaws baked into the systems and institutions that support scientific research, which not only permit bad scientific practices, but actually encourage them. And, if anything, things have been getting worse over the past few decades. Yet as awareness of the problem has grown, so have efforts to tackle it. So, how are these opposing forces faring? Will the efforts to combat fake science succeed? And how can you know if the research you read about in New Scientist and elsewhere will ever make it out of the lab and start working in the real world? It is hard to pinpoint when the replication crisis began, but many people got their first inkling of it in 2011. That year, three things happened to ring alarm bells. First, a study was published that claimed to demonstrate psychic abilities. Some people apparently experienced improvements to their memory of word lists if they were given reminders after being tested. In other words, they were seemingly predicting the future. Later that year, a paper showed how easy it is to get invalid positive results. The key is “cherry-picking”, producing lots of data and only using the figures that confirm your hypothesis, a practice also sometimes called p-hacking, after one of the terms in a commonly used statistical technique. A third blow was the brewing scandal over Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel, who was caught simply making up results. This showed that the much-vaunted journal peer-review system – where journals ask experts in a field to decide whether a paper should be accepted – is no guarantee that only good science gets published.

4-6-22 Map of how our brain changes with age could help diagnose diseases
Using more than 123,000 MRI scans from over 101,000 humans - from a 16.5-week fetus to 100 year olds - scientists have mapped how our brain changes throughout our life. A map of how our brain changes throughout our life could aid the diagnosis of neurological conditions. “It’s the first time that anyone sort of stitched together these developmental patterns really, throughout the whole lifespan, going from even pre-birth to old age,” says Richard Bethlehem at the University of Cambridge. Bethlehem and his colleagues analysed 123,984 MRI scans from 101,457 humans, from a 16.5-week fetus to 100 year olds, from more than 100 studies. “We just asked the simple questions about how big the brain is or what is the [variation] in possible brain size across humans – actually those things haven’t really been that well addressed [in previous studies],” says team member Jakob Seidlitz at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Among the participants, brain size increased from 10 per cent to 80 per cent of its maximum volume from about 4 months old to 3 years old, peaking at 1066 cubic centimetres at around 11 years old, before gradually declining. The average thickness of the cortex, the brain’s outer region, peaked at 1.7 years old. Cortex thinning has been linked with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting early brain development may influence a person’s risk of the condition in later life. “If there are effects of this feature later in life as a function of disease, and [cortical thickness] peaks really early, then that poses the interesting question of should we be studying what leads to these diseases starting from really early on?” says Seidlitz. The brain map could one day act as a reference for standard brain growth, similar to paediatric growth charts, helping clinicians and researchers better track the onset of neurological conditions.

4-6-22 Ancient footprints are a welcome new window on ancient people's lives
IT WAS out in the desert of New Mexico that humanity first tested the atomic bomb, creating an explosion that left an indelible imprint on our planet. In the same area, just a few dozen kilometres south, scientists are now finding imprints of quite a different sort: human footprints from the Stone Age. These tracks don’t have anything like the historical significance of the first nuclear test – and that is precisely why they are so important. Archaeology often focuses on the big picture: technological shifts, epic migrations, the fall of civilisations. By contrast, the stones and bones we dig up rarely provide a clear sense of what everyday life was like for ordinary people, especially when it comes to the earliest humans, of whom there is precious little archaeological evidence anyway. The footprints being discovered in White Sands National Park, New Mexico, are the perfect counterpoint to this problem. Archaeologists had barely bothered to look for fossil footprints for decades, assuming them to be vanishingly rare. But as we report, this particular site is giving the lie to that. The landscape at White Sands is strewn with ancient human tracks. What’s more, analysing details like the size and spacing of the footprints allows us to recreate snippets of people’s lives. The stories are incredible, from the thrill of hunting a giant ground sloth to the moments of joy as ancient children splash in muddy puddles. No other archaeological resource can give us these kinds of insights. It is about time that we started more actively searching for ancient human prints in other places. It is likely that they can be found at many other sites around the world, and it will be fascinating to see what more can be unearthed. There is, however, a danger here of pushing the evidence too far in pursuit of a good yarn. We can reconstruct the cut and thrust of an animal hunt, but we must be careful not to assume we know how the hunters actually felt. Get this right, though, and footprints are set to leave a lasting imprint on our understanding of our ancient human ancestors.

4-6-22 Ancient Chilean tsunami scared local people away for 1000 years
A tsunami 3800 years ago devastated the coastline of Chile and encouraged hunter-gatherers to move inland, where they stayed for the next 1000 years. An earthquake as large as any in recorded history struck the coast of Chile about 3800 years ago, triggering a tsunami that caused devastation along 1000 kilometres of coastline. In the wake of the tsunami, local hunter-gatherers began spending less time near the coast and moved cemeteries further inland, staying there for 1000 years or more, despite not having a system of writing to convey information about the disaster. It is a remarkable example of a society transforming itself to handle natural threats, say the researchers who studied the event. The team, led by Gabriel Easton at the University of Chile in Santiago, spent years in the Atacama desert on the west coast of South America, gathering evidence of an ancient tsunami. At multiple sites, they found a layer of distinctive sediment dumped by a tsunami. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal and shells in archaeological deposits directly overlying the tsunami sediment suggest it happened about 3800 years ago. It is impressive that the team has found evidence over such a wide area, says Eugenia Gayo, director of Millennium Nucleus Upwell in Concepción, Chile. “It’s robust.” The coast of Chile lies on a subduction zone, where one of the tectonic plates that make up Earth’s surface is being forced under another. As a result, the region is prone to large earthquakes. However, the written record in this region is quite short, so it is unclear how big the quakes can be and how often the biggest ones occur. “We propose that this earthquake was similar to the Valdivia earthquake that occurred in 1960 in southern Chile,” says Easton. “This is the largest earthquake ever recorded in history.” The Valdivia quake had a magnitude of about 9.5, and Easton’s team says the tremor 3800 years ago was similar.

4-6-22 Your guide to the UK’s covid-19 testing rules and how LFTs really work
With record numbers of people in England and Wales testing positive for covid-19, many want to know the significance of the lines on a positive lateral flow test, and how they relate to your likelihood of infecting others. Record numbers of people in England and Wales are testing positive for covid-19. Here’s what you need to know about how lateral flow tests work, why symptoms may linger even if a person is no longer testing positive, and how long you can test positive after you have recovered from your symptoms. What is the current advice in the UK if you have covid-19? Although people in England no longer legally have to self-isolate if they have covid-19 symptoms or test positive, it remains UK government advice that they should try to do so for at least five days, although they can be infectious for up to 10 days and so should avoid contact with people who are at higher risk for that period. “The focus of this new phase [of the pandemic] is on protecting those who are most at risk from the virus,” said a spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in a statement. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people should only stop isolating before 10 days if they have two negative results from a lateral flow test (LFT) over two days. In England, people are no longer advised to take LFTs to check when they become negative, and the tests are no longer free for the general population, although they can be bought at pharmacies. “The fact that legally it’s not enforced anymore doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t still be careful,” says Christopher Chiu at Imperial College London. How have the rules in England changed for children? The UKHSA no longer advises people under 18 to get tested for covid-19, unless it is on a doctor’s advice. For those who do have a positive test, the recommended self-isolation period has been cut to three days after the day the test was taken. “There is some evidence that children have a shorter duration of illness compared to adults,” said UKHSA head Jenny Harries in a statement. “Ideally children would return to school as soon as they turn lateral flow negative,” says Iain Buchan at the University of Liverpool in the UK. “But at some point, political decisions need to be taken, over cost and priorities. Prioritising children’s education and social development is important.”

4-6-22 Ancient footprints show children splashed in puddles 11,500 years ago
A set of ancient footprints seems to show children splashing around in water that had pooled in tracks left by a now-extinct ground sloth. The delight that children find when they jump in muddy puddles has a surprisingly long history. Fossil footprints discovered at an archaeological site in New Mexico show that a group of youngsters living at least 11,500 years ago spent a carefree few minutes engaged in some joyful splashing. But the world was very different back then: the puddles in question had formed in the deep footprints left by a now-extinct giant ground sloth. The footprints were discovered at White Sands National Park, a site which is rapidly gaining a reputation for its astonishing archaeology. Within the park there is a playa – a dried up lake bed – some 100 square kilometres in size. The playa contains thousands of footprints left by humans, mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and other inhabitants of prehistoric North America. Some of the footprints suggest humans had reached the Americas 23,000 years ago – about 8000 years earlier than we had thought. But what really sets the ancient human footprints at White Sands apart is their power to vividly show us what life was like for early Americans. Matthew Bennett at Bournemouth University, UK, has been studying prints at the site for several years. He and his team can measure the prints to work out things like the age of the person who made them and how fast they were walking or running. Then they can follow the tracks and see how events such as animal hunts unfolded. “It’s written in the tracks what happened,” says Bennett. In unpublished work, Bennett and his team have found one collection of prints that tell a particularly evocative tale. It begins with a set of roughly 40-centimetre-long footprints that show a giant ground sloth – measuring perhaps 3 metres from nose to tail – lumbered across the landscape.

4-6-22 How fossil footprints are revealing the joy and fear of Stone Age life
A new wave of archaeological investigations is reconstructing intimate details of our ancestors' lives from fossilised footprints. They give us glimpses of everything from parent-child relationships to the thrill of a giant sloth hunt. A YOUNG woman is struggling across a muddy plain with a 3-year-old child on her left hip. She puts the youngster down to catch her breath. But she is too afraid to pause for long. The pair are alone, an easy target for the sabre-toothed cats that may lurk nearby. She picks up the child again and hurries on, vanishing into the distance. For a time, all is quiet. Then a giant ground sloth plods across the path she took. The animal catches the woman’s scent and is instantly on guard, rearing up and turning to scan the landscape for human hunters. What was it like to live in the Stone Age? There must have been moments of joy, fear, love, pain and perhaps even wonder for the people who inhabited Earth tens of thousands of years ago. But emotions don’t fossilise, so we are shut out of those moments, separated by a vast chasm of time. We can find all the bones and tools we like, but they won’t tell us about the experience of life for our ancient ancestors. Then again, a new window on their everyday existence may be cracking open. As people went about their lives, they left untold numbers of footprints behind. These recorded their behaviour in a unique way, capturing everything from nervous shuffles to determined sprints. What’s more, the tracks have an order to them, meaning events can be read like a narrative. That story of the woman, the child and the giant sloth is a vivid example we have found written in ancient tracks – but it certainly isn’t the only one. An explosion in discoveries of ancient footprints is revealing a new portrait of the past, from the division of labour between the sexes to the behaviour of long-extinct animals.

4-6-22 What we learned about COVID-19 safety from a NYC anime convention
Masks, vaccine requirements and more kept most fans free of diseases that can spread. As Kristin Meyer set up her merchandise booth at the Anime NYC convention last November, she was sure she’d be exposed to the coronavirus at some point during the three-day event. “Getting that many people together in one spot, the chance that absolutely no one had COVID was zero,” she says. Meyer was one of hundreds of artists who paid for a space to sell their art in the convention’s Artist Alley. Many signed up, despite getting a cold or the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia at previous fan conventions. “I used to get everything,” says Daifei, another artist, who asked to be referred to by their online handle. “Just from being around people.” Anime NYC, first held in 2017, has become a beloved meeting place for fans of Japanese cartoons known as anime and comics called manga. Fans wearing elaborate anime-inspired costumes enter contests and pose for group photos. Actors who voice popular characters speak on panels and meet attendees for autographs. Media companies offer exclusive previews of their upcoming releases. In the Artist Alley, attendees buy anime-inspired prints, charms, buttons and other custom-made merchandise. At an event like Anime NYC, artists can make as much as $15,000 in a weekend, says Daniela Muino, an artist who traveled from Texas with her partner to the 2021 convention. “People physically seeing your art in front of them” is great for sales, Muino says. The greatest draw of Anime NYC for many attendees is connecting with other fans. A hobby typically considered niche takes over one of the country’s largest convention centers — the Javits Center — and drives a three-day party in and around the venue. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the 2021 event drew a record 53,000 attendees from around the United States and 30 other countries.

4-5-22 We shouldn't dismiss 'incidental' covid-19 infections in UK hospitals
Statistics for covid-19 in hospitals aren’t overblown, because even if people are in hospital for something else, adding covid-19 into the equation puts an extra burden on health services. The UK is currently experiencing a surge in covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, in common with many countries. Inevitably, the number of people in UK hospitals with the illness is also rising, and reached 2509 people admitted on 28 March – just over half the daily admissions seen at the highest peak of the pandemic in the UK in January 2021, when it reached more than 4500 per day. In the current wave, covid-19 is causing less severe illness than in previous waves, thanks to the lower intrinsic severity of the omicron variant and higher levels of population immunity. The number of people who need ventilation in intensive care is currently less than a tenth of the numbers seen in January 2021, the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the UK. As a result, some people say that just tracking the total number of people with covid-19 in hospital overstates the effect of the pandemic on health services. People can go to hospital for a different reason, such as a broken leg, for example, and be found to have covid-19 only after routine testing. According to figures from NHS England, such cases of “incidental covid” are now about half the total number of people in hospital with the virus. But dismissing all those with incidental covid underestimates the virus’s impact on health services. Firstly, even if covid-19 isn’t the main reason someone is admitted to hospital, it will still worsen most people’s prognosis. The coronavirus has always taken a greater toll on those who are older or medically vulnerable – and most hospital patients are likely to fit one of these categories. About two-thirds of people in hospital in the UK are over 65 and most of those who are younger are medically vulnerable just by virtue of their needing to be in hospital. Even a relatively minor operation, like a hernia repair, will leave people at higher risk from the infection.

4-5-22 Robot scientist finds most breast cancer studies aren't reproducible
A robot scientist repeated experiments from 74 studies on breast cancer cells, and only 22 yielded the expected result, suggesting researchers may need to report their work more carefully. Fewer than 1 in 3 breast cancer cell studies are reproducible, according to an analysis that used a robot to partly automate experiments. This doesn’t necessarily mean the findings aren’t accurate, but could suggest that researchers need to report their work more carefully. Reproducibility – or the ability for other researchers to replicate the results of experiments in their own labs – is a cornerstone of the scientific method, but it isn’t often put to the test. “There are unbelievable numbers of papers being published, but very few repeating the same experiment,” says Ross King at the University of Cambridge. To test the reproducibility of research on breast cancer, King and his colleagues trawled scientific databases for relevant papers, finding more than 12,000 in one open-access repository. Next, they used text-mining tools to pick out phrases they felt were important to the scientific literature in the field, to identify those papers whose findings were most meaningful. They selected 74 papers to try to replicate and used a “robot scientist” called Eve to carry out the experiments. Eve added chemicals to cancer cell cultures that the published studies said would affect the activity of certain genes. Just 22 out of 74 results from the studies could be fully replicated by the robot. “Most of the literature suggests if you really try hard, you get about half of them to work,” says King. “We semi-automated it, so it’s a lower bound.” King believes that the inability to reproduce so many published findings is an indication of two things. First, biological systems are incredibly complicated. “Slight differences in conditions become important,” he says.

4-5-22 Racial bias can seep into U.S. patients’ medical notes
“Refused” and “unwilling” are among the words more likely to appear in Black patients’ charts. When health care providers enter notes into patients’ electronic health records, they are more likely to portray Black patients negatively compared with white patients, two recent studies have found. The unfavorable descriptions may perpetuate bias and stigma and influence the care patients receive. “The first impression is the chart,” says Gracie Himmelstein, a physician training in internal medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. “That narrative is going to shape your views of the patient, even if you think you’re just looking for the clinical data.” Himmelstein and colleagues analyzed more than 48,000 hospital admission notes from a Boston medical center. Stigmatizing language overall, and about diabetes and substance use disorder in particular, was more often used in the notes of Black patients compared with white patients, the team reported January 27 in JAMA Network Open. Another study combed through more than 40,000 medical notes from a Chicago medical center. Black patients were more likely to be described as not complying with or resistant to treatment, among other unfavorable terms, a different research group reported in the February Health Affairs. The two studies appear to be the first to quantify racial bias in the U.S. electronic health record. Bias can drive health disparities — differences in health tied to social, environmental or economic disadvantages — that occur between different racial and ethnic groups. For example, Black infants have a higher mortality rate than white infants due to health disparities (SN: 8/25/20). The Health Affairs study’s team designed a computer program to look for phrases with negative connotations, including “not compliant,” “not adherent” and “refused,” in medical notes written from January 2019 to October 2020 for close to 18,500 patients. Overall, 8 percent of the patients had one or more negative terms in their electronic health records.

4-5-22 Charles Darwin's long-lost notebooks returned to Cambridge library in anonymous pink gift bag
Librarians at Cambridge University just received a happy Easter surprise. Two of Charles Darwin's notebooks that were believed to have been stolen over 20 years ago have been returned to Cambridge University Library. The notebooks were wrapped in cling film and left in a "bright pink gift bag" along with a message that said, "Librarian, Happy Easter," the library said Tuesday. BBC News reported in 2020 that the notebooks, one of which contains Darwin's Tree of Life sketch, had not been seen since 2000. They were removed after a photography request that was completed in November 2000, but a routine check in January 2001 found they weren't back in the proper place, according to Cambridge University. While librarians at first thought they might have just been misplaced, they later concluded the notebooks had likely been stolen. University librarian Dr. Jessica Gardner said in 2020 she was "heartbroken" but that "we're determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process," and she issued a public appeal for more information. 15 months later, the Darwin notebooks were anonymously returned on March 9 in "good condition," the library said. "My sense of relief at the notebooks' safe return is profound and almost impossible to adequately express," Gardner said. "Along with so many others all across the world, I was heartbroken to learn of their loss and my joy at their return is immense." Gardner said the notebooks will be put on display this summer, adding their "impact on the history of science, and their importance to our world-class collections here, cannot be overstated." It's still not clear who might have returned the notebooks, and a police investigation is ongoing. "We share the university's delight that these priceless notebooks are now back where they belong," Cambridgeshire Police said. "Our investigation remains open and we are following up some lines of inquiry."

4-5-22 We shouldn't dismiss 'incidental' covid-19 infections in UK hospitals
Statistics for covid-19 in hospitals aren’t overblown, because even if people are in hospital for something else, adding covid-19 into the equation puts an extra burden on health services. The UK is currently experiencing a surge in covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, in common with many countries. Inevitably, the number of people in UK hospitals with the illness is also rising, and reached 2509 people admitted on 28 March – just over half the daily admissions seen at the highest peak of the pandemic in the UK in January 2021, when it reached more than 4500 per day. In the current wave, covid-19 is causing less severe illness than in previous waves, thanks to the lower intrinsic severity of the omicron variant and higher levels of population immunity. The number of people who need ventilation in intensive care is currently less than a tenth of the numbers seen in January 2021, the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the UK. As a result, some people say that just tracking the total number of people with covid-19 in hospital overstates the effect of the pandemic on health services. People can go to hospital for a different reason, such as a broken leg, for example, and be found to have covid-19 only after routine testing. According to figures from NHS England, such cases of “incidental covid” are now about half the total number of people in hospital with the virus. But dismissing all those with incidental covid underestimates the virus’s impact on health services. Firstly, even if covid-19 isn’t the main reason someone is admitted to hospital, it will still worsen most people’s prognosis. The coronavirus has always taken a greater toll on those who are older or medically vulnerable – and most hospital patients are likely to fit one of these categories. About two-thirds of people in hospital in the UK are over 65 and most of those who are younger are medically vulnerable just by virtue of their needing to be in hospital. Even a relatively minor operation, like a hernia repair, will leave people at higher risk from the infection.

4-4-22 High blood pressure may be treated by burning nerves near the kidneys
Radio wave pulses burn the nerves in the walls of the arteries that feed the kidneys, reducing the nerves' activity and lowering blood pressure. Burning the nerves around the kidneys could permanently lower blood pressure among people who don’t respond well to medication. For decades, the kidneys’ nerves have been known to regulate blood pressure. So-called renal denervation involves inserting a catheter into the thigh’s femoral artery to access the arteries that feed the kidneys. Applying radio wave pulses burns the nerves in the artery walls, reducing their activity. The technique has shown promise as a treatment for high blood pressure, but there is a lack of data on its safety and long-term efficacy. To find out more, Felix Mahfoud at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, and his colleagues looked at 80 people who had high blood pressure, despite taking antihypertension drugs. Thirty-eight of the participants underwent renal denervation and 42 had a sham procedure, acting as the control group. At the start of the study, all the participants’ systolic pressure – the force at which the heart pumps blood around the body – was between 150 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and 180 mmHg. Anything above 140 mmHg is generally considered high. Their diastolic pressure, the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels, was at least 90 mmHg, the upper end of a healthy reading. Three years after the procedure, the renal denervation participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were 10 mmHg and 5.9 mmHg lower, respectively, than their sham group counterparts. Most of the participants continued to take blood pressure-lowering drugs throughout the study. No safety issues were linked to renal denervation over the three years.

4-4-22 Genes linked to Alzheimer’s may help calculate your risk of getting it
Findings from the biggest genetic study of Alzheimer’s to date could help people at high risk of the disease take action to delay or prevent symptoms. The biggest Alzheimer’s study of its kind has more than doubled the number of genetic variations known to be implicated in the disease. The research points to a future where people could be given a genetic risk score for their potential to develop the condition and personalised strategies for prevention and treatment. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 850,000 people in the UK. About 60 to 80 per cent of the risk for the disease is thought to be genetic. To find more of the genetic factors responsible, Rebecca Sims at Cardiff University in the UK and her colleagues looked at the the genomes of more than 100,000 people who had Alzheimer’s or had a parent with the condition, and compared them with over 600,000 people with no family history of the disease. This is much more than the number of people with Alzheimer’s analysed by any previous genome-wide association study (GWAS). “The last major GWAS in Alzheimer’s had about 22,000 people with Alzheimer’s in its initial set-up,” says Sims. The analysis confirmed the role of 33 gene variations that had previously been linked to the disease and added a further 42 specific gene variations to that list. Sims says no variation seems more significant than any other. “Part of what this study shows is how complex this disease actually is and how multifactorial it is,” she says. But it does highlight the role that microglia, immune cells in the brain, can play in the disease, says Sims. “Years ago, we were only looking at neurons and how they might be involved in Alzheimer’s, but now we know that these cells are really important too.”

4-4-22 Covid-19 news: Nine new symptoms recognised by the NHS
A regular round-up of the latest coronavirus news, plus insight, features and interviews from New Scientist about the covid-19 pandemic. The symptom list has been expanded days after officials ended free universal testing in England. For most of the pandemic, the NHS in England has only recognised three covid-19 symptoms: fever, a new and continuous cough, or a loss of taste or smell – which many experts considered too limited. Now, as 4.9 million people were estimated to be infected in the UK in the week ending 26 March, the NHS has expanded its symptom list to include: Shortness of breath, Fatigue or exhaustion, Body aches, A headache, A sore throat, A blocked or runny nose, Loss of appetite, Diarrhoea, Nausea or vomiting. This list more closely matches that of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recognised many of these symptoms early in the pandemic. The NHS’ list stops short of some of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) symptoms, however, which also considers skin rashes, red or irritated eyes, or discolouration of the fingers or toes to be less common signs of infection. Chest pain, confusion, or a loss of speech or mobility can occur in severe cases, according to WHO. Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out for 5- to 11-year-olds in England. In February, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said two low-dose vaccines, administered 12 weeks apart, would prevent “a very small number of children from serious illness and hospitalisation” in any future covid-19 wave. Vaccination programmes were already underway for this age group in the rest of the UK. Shanghai’s recorded covid-19 cases are increasing. The locked-down city in China recently extended its restrictions, despite initial signs that infections may be declining. On April 3, Shanghai reported 8581 new asymptomatic covid-19 cases and 425 symptomatic cases, compared with 7788 new asymptomatic cases and 438 symptomatic cases the day before. Bizarre lockdown dreams may have reflected our claustrophobia and sense of being out of control. University College London researchers analysed more than 850 dreams submitted online to the Lockdown Dreams project between March 2020 and March 2021. From 23 March to 15 June 2020, which corresponds with the UK’s first lockdown, just over seven in 10 (71 per cent) of the participants reported having more vivid dreams, compared with pre-pandemic. These included being locked indoors or unable to get to loved ones standing outside.

4-1-22 When people say ‘people’ online they may mostly be thinking about men
An analysis of 630 billion words published online suggests that people tend to think of men when using gender-neutral terms, a sexist bias that could be learned by AI models. When people use gender-neutral words like “people” and “humanity” they tend to be thinking of men rather than women, in reflection of sexism present in many societies, according to an analysis of billions of words published online. The researchers behind the work warn that this sexist bias is being passed on to artificial intelligence models that have been trained on the same text. April Bailey at New York University and colleagues used a statistical algorithm to analyse a collection of 630 billion words contained within 2.96 billion web pages gathered in 2017, including informal text from blogs and discussion forums as well as more formal text written by the media, corporations and governments, mostly in English. They used an approach called word embedding which derives the intended meaning of a word by the frequency it occurs in context with other words. They found that words like “person”, “people” and “humanity” are used in contexts that better match the context of words like “men”, “he” and “male” than those of words like “women”, “she” and “her”. The team says that because these gender-inclusive words were used more similarly to those that refer to men, people may see them as more male in their conceptual meaning – a reflection of male-dominated society. They accounted for the fact that men may be over-represented as authors in their dataset, and found it didn’t affect the result. One open question is to what extent this is dependent on English, says the team – other languages such as Spanish include explicit gender information that could change the results. The team also didn’t account for non-binary gender identities or differentiate between the biological and social aspects of sex and gender.

4-1-22 Holograms might speed up diagnosis of urinary tract infection
By sending light through urine it’s possible to generate a hologram that can reveal the presence of bacteria or other signs of disease. A system that analyses urine using holograms could lead to faster diagnoses for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and monitor urine content in real time. The most common urine tests have been in use for decades. They typically involve dipstick tests for red and white blood cells, or require the urine to be sent to a lab to be tested for bacteria. While these methods are relatively cheap and straightforward, they aren’t always very sensitive, which can be a problem given that people with UTIs may drink water to ease their symptoms and so produce highly diluted urine. Nicholas Durr at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and his colleagues designed a tool that takes a urine sample and produces a hologram – a 3D representation of an object based on detailed information from light it interacts with. Durr and his team used a laser to pass light through a sample of urine that had been embedded in a jelly-like substance to immobilise the floating particles it contained, then recorded the resulting pattern of light with a camera. “We record more information than you do with a normal camera,” says Durr. “That extra information allows us to know about the three-dimensional object.” Once the light has been captured by the camera, it can then be reconstructed into a 3D image for Durr and his team to analyse, which helps them identify microscopic objects, such as cells, within the urine sample. The system performed differently depending on the size of the objects it was measuring. For relatively large objects, such as red blood cells, it performed well enough to suggest it could have applications monitoring blood in urine. Bacteria, however, are similar in size to the camera’s pixels, so it is harder to resolve individual bacterial cells.

4-1-22 UK farmers call for weedkiller ban over Parkinson’s fears
Some British farmers are calling for a ban on the UK production of toxic weedkiller Paraquat, saying studies suggest it could be a factor in the onset of Parkinson's Disease. It comes as hundreds of US farm workers pursue a legal case against its manufacturer, alleging it knew the risk and failed to warn them. Andy Pollard was once a farm manager who could leap into his tractor cab. But now his limbs are rigid and his body contorts with spasms. He has advanced Parkinson's Disease, and can no longer control his own movements. He spent decades spraying herbicides on his land and, unaware of any danger, didn't use protective equipment. "Paraquat was a really good thing to use - or so we thought," his wife Sue says. "Andy would be driving around the fields and the spray would be going everywhere." She had thought it was a coincidence that the only people she knew with Parkinson's were farm workers, then read about the potential connection with the chemical. "Why hasn't it been regulated and stopped?" she asks. "We've got a lot of people in the same situation." Paraquat was first manufactured in the UK in the early 1960s and is sold globally - 377 companies have registered it for sale. It is one of the world's most popular and effective herbicides, millions of farmers have used it to kill weeds. But it is also one of the most dangerous and has caused thousands of poisoning deaths. Its manufacturer Syngenta says claims of a link between Paraquat and Parkinson's are not supported by scientific evidence, stating it has undergone more than 1,200 safety studies. Andy regularly visits a Dorset farm run by charity Countrymen UK, founded by Julie Plumley after her father John was diagnosed with Parkinson's. The 30-acre working farm sells beef and lamb. In the yard, instead of tractors is a fleet of mobility scooters. "The farmers come here not because they're ill," Julie explains, "but because they want to get on with living."

4-1-22 Where you grew up may shape your navigational skills
Childhood environments matter for spatial abilities, video game data suggest. Score one for the country mouse. People who grow up outside of cities are better at finding their way around than urbanites, a large study on navigation suggests. The results, described online March 30 in Nature, hint that learning to handle environmental complexity as a child strengthens mental muscles for spatial skills. Nearly 400,000 people from 38 countries around the world played a video game called Sea Hero Quest, designed by neuroscientists and game developers as a fun way to glean data about people’s brains. Players piloted a boat in search of various targets. On average, people who said they had grown up outside of cities, where they would have presumably encountered lots of meandering paths, were better at finding the targets than people who were raised in cities. What’s more, the difference between city dwellers and outsiders was most prominent in countries where cities tend to have simple, gridlike layouts, such as Chicago with its streets laid out at 90-degree angles. The simpler the cities, the bigger the advantage for people from more rural areas, cognitive scientist Antoine Coutrot of CNRS who is based in Lyon, France, and his colleagues report. Still, from these video game data, scientists can’t definitively say that the childhood environment is behind the differences in navigation. But it’s plausible. “As a kid, if you are exposed to a complex environment, you learn to find your way, and you develop the right cognitive processes to do so,” Coutrot says. Other bits of demography have been linked to navigational performance, including age, gender, education and even a superior sense of smell (SN: 10/16/18). Figuring out these details will give doctors a more precise baseline of a person’s navigational abilities. That, in turn, might help reveal when these skills slip, as they do in early Alzheimer’s disease, for instance.

4-1-22 Mammals’ bodies outpaced their brains right after the dinosaurs died
Fossils show mammals’ brains and bodies did not balloon together, contrary to expectations. Modern mammals are known for their big brains. But new analyses of mammal skulls from creatures that lived shortly after the dinosaur mass extinction shows that those brains weren’t always a foregone conclusion. For at least 10 million years after the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals got a lot brawnier but not brainier, researchers report in the April 1 Science. That bucks conventional wisdom, to put it mildly. “I thought, it’s not possible, there must be something that I did wrong,” says Ornella Bertrand, a mammal paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh. “It really threw me off. How am I going to explain that they were not smart?” Modern mammals have the largest brains in the animal kingdom relative to their body size. How and when that brain evolution happened is a mystery. One idea has been that the disappearance of all nonbird dinosaurs following an asteroid impact at the end of the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago left a vacuum for mammals to fill (SN: 1/25/17). Recent discoveries of fossils dating to the Paleocene — the immediately post-extinction epoch spanning 66 million to 56 million years ago — does reveal a flourishing menagerie of weird and wonderful mammal species, many much bigger than their Mesozoic predecessors. It was the dawn of the Age of Mammals. Before those fossil finds, the prevailing wisdom was that in the wake of the mass dino extinction, mammals’ brains most likely grew apace with their bodies, everything increasing together like an expanding balloon, Bertrand says. But those discoveries of Paleocene fossil troves in Colorado and New Mexico, as well as reexaminations of fossils previously found in France, are now unraveling that story, by offering scientists the chance to actually measure the size of mammals’ brains over time.

4-1-22 We finally have a fully complete human genome
About 8 percent of the genome was missing from earlier versions of the genetic instruction book. Researchers have finally deciphered a complete human genetic instruction book from cover to cover. The completion of the human genome has been announced a couple of times in the past, but those were actually incomplete drafts. “We really mean it this time,” says Evan Eichler, a human geneticist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Washington in Seattle. The completed genome is presented in a series of papers published online March 31 in Science and Nature Methods. An international team of researchers, including Eichler, used new DNA sequencing technology to untangle repetitive stretches of DNA that were redacted from an earlier version of the genome, widely used as a reference for guiding biomedical research. Deciphering those tricky stretches adds about 200 million DNA bases, about 8 percent of the genome, to the instruction book, researchers report in Science. That’s essentially an entire chapter. And it’s a juicy one, containing the first-ever looks at the short arms of some chromosomes, long-lost genes and important parts of chromosomes called centromeres — where machinery responsible for divvying up DNA grips the chromosome. “Some of the regions that were missing actually turn out to be the most interesting,” says Rajiv McCoy, a human geneticist at Johns Hopkins University, who was part of the team known as the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) Consortium assembling the complete genome. “It’s exciting because we get to take the first look inside these regions and see what we can find.” Telomeres are repetitive stretches of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Like aglets on shoelaces, they may help keep chromosomes from unraveling. Data from the effort are already available for other researchers to explore. And some, like geneticist Ting Wang of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, have already delved in. “Having a complete genome reference definitely improves biomedical studies.… It’s an extremely useful resource,” he says. “There’s no question that this is an important achievement.”

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for April 2022

Evolution News Articles for March 2022