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87 Evolution News Articles
from 3rd Quarter of 2015
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9-30-15 Are compulsive thoughts normal?
Are compulsive thoughts normal?
Obsessive thought processes such as a compulsion to count pop up in many of our brains – and they might even carry an evolutionary advantage. Obsessive and compulsive thoughts once carried an evolutionary advantage as they prepared us for dealing with future risk, he says: “It’s almost like a psychological immune system.” Hence why many common obsessive thoughts or routines people have – for instance concerning cleanliness – are to do with possible threats. Obsessive thoughts might also have evolved as a mechanism to improve social bonding. “Having a propensity to behave in a ritualistic way could help with social cohesion and that has a clear adaptive advantage.”

9-29-15 Our knack for remembering faces is a highly evolved skill
Our knack for remembering faces is a highly evolved skill
A massive study of twins finds that facial recognition ability is coded in our genes – but few of those genes also affect general intelligence. Most of us are better at recognising faces than distinguishing between other similar objects, so it’s long been suspected there’s something mysterious about the way the brain processes a face. Now further evidence has emerged that this is a special, highly evolved skill. A study of twins suggests there are genes influencing face recognition abilities that are distinct from the ones affecting intelligence – so it’s not that people who are good with faces just have a better memory, for instance. “The idea is that telling friend from foe was so important to survival that there was very strong pressure to improve that trait.”

9-29-15 Why are we the only human species alive?
Why are we the only human species alive?
Once Earth was home to a host of human species, from Neanderthals to hobbits. But today only we survive. Our own species appeared around 200,000 years ago, at a time when several others existed. Yet today, only we remain. Why did we manage to survive when all of our closest relatives have died out? But it is not obvious that the world only has room for one species of human. Our closest living relatives are the great apes, and there are 6 species alive today: chimpanzees, bonobos, two species of gorilla and two species of orangutan. There are some clues that reveal why some of our forebears were more successful than others.

9-25-15 Ears of early humans could hear frequencies used in speech
Ears of early humans could hear frequencies used in speech
Bones from two human ancestors living between 1 and 3 million years ago show their hearing shifted towards frequencies useful for savannah survival and speech.

9-25-15 Homo naledi fossil prints come to London
Homo naledi fossil prints come to London
They are among the most sensational fossils to be found in Africa in recent years, and visitors to London's Natural History Museum can see what all the fuss is about on Friday. They were given to the institution by the Johannesburg discovery team. Bones from perhaps 15 of the human-like creatures were recovered from a cave complex not far from the city. It is the biggest haul of fossil hominin remains ever identified on the African continent. (Webmaster's comment: See the hominin missing links between hominids and humans: A Chronology of Human Evolution)

9-25-15 Bumblebees cope with climate change by evolving shorter tongues
Bumblebees cope with climate change by evolving shorter tongues
Two bumblebee species have got 25 per cent shorter in 40 years, allowing them to feed from shorter flowers as warming makes deeper ones vanish. Two alpine bumblebee species, formerly picky eaters, are expanding their palates – by shortening their tongues. As the climate warms, their homes near the peaks of the Rocky Mountains have fewer flowers than before. At Pennsylvania Mountain in Colorado, for example, the number of flowers the bees feed on has dropped by 60 per cent since the 1970s. So the bees have become less choosy, evolving to sip nectar from a wider variety of flowers: Bombus balteatus and B. sylvicola tongues have become 25 per cent shorter over the last 40 years or so. “Natural selection can give them running shoes to keep up with climate change,” says Candace Galen of the University of Missouri in Columbia, whose team compared bumblebees collected in 2012-2014 with museum specimens from 1966 to 1980. (Webmaster's comment: They can evolve quickly given that they produce a new generation every year. No so with humans. We produce a new generation every 25 years. Not nearly fast enough to evolve differently to deal with global warming.

9-25-15 Body's 'chemical calendar' discovered
Body's 'chemical calendar' discovered
The way the body can track the passing of the seasons in a "chemical calendar" has been discovered by scientists. The team, reporting in Current Biology, found a cluster of thousands of cells that could exist in either a "summer" or "winter" state. They use the lengthening day to switch more of them into summer mode and the opposite when the nights draw in. The annual clock controls when animals breed and hibernate and in humans may be altering the immune system.

9-24-15 Fishing the past: How the brain maps memory
Fishing the past: How the brain maps memory
Our brains are constantly searching mental time and space in this way: looking for the hooks that will retrieve events from the past. Scientists have spent more than a hundred years studying this phenomenon, but the mechanics of what psychologist Endel Tulving called "mental time travel" — the ability to relive the past in the mind — remains largely mysterious. If we can understand how our minds retrieve events, then we might find ways to keep those hooks glinting clearly in the murk of memory, especially as we age.

9-22-15 Humans walk around in our own personal cloud of airborne bugs
Humans walk around in our own personal cloud of airborne bugs
Your body's unique combination of bacteria species is detectable from at least a metre away, and includes bugs from some of our most intimate places. Everyone walks around enveloped in an airborne cloud of bacteria, a bit like the Peanuts character Pig-Pen, and some of the bugs come from our most intimate nooks and crannies.

Humans walk around in our own personal cloud of airborne bugs

“You are standing in another person’s microbial cloud the moment you shake hands,” says James Meadow of the University of Oregon in Eugene. Our bodies are home to an estimated 100 trillion bacteria, viruses and fungi. People leave traces of their microbial communities on surfaces like their phones, and Meadow’s team wondered if the air around us also carries such signatures. (Webmaster's comment: They were right. It does! Detecting these microbes also probably plays a part in sexual selection. You can't hide what you are.)

9-22-15 These animals are male on one side and female on the other
These animals are male on one side and female on the other
Split down the middle? The animals that are female on one side and male on the other. Their bodies are split in two right down the middle. They could help us understand how sex develops.

9-21-15 Clumps of gold nanoparticles can evolve to carry out computing
Clumps of gold nanoparticles can evolve to carry out computing
Fast, efficient, brain-like computers may be a step closer now that a Darwinian technique has coaxed a heap of nanoparticles to act as logic gates. A random assembly of gold nanoparticles can perform calculations normally reserved for neatly arranged patterns of silicon. Now, van der Wiel and his colleagues have enabled a clump of gold grains to handle bits of information in the same way that conventional microprocessors do.

9-21-15 Oldest salmon bones hint how Stone Age migration was fuelled
Oldest salmon bones hint how Stone Age migration was fuelled
The discovery of fish bones in a hearth in Alaska suggests that salmon helped fuel the migration of Stone Age people from Asia into North America. Salmon bones found at an 11,500-year-old human settlement in Alaska are the earliest evidence of people eating salmon in North America, showing that fish provided an important food source for settlers in the region. The bones were discovered in a hearth inside a house at the Upward Sun River site, the exact location where human remains were previously found of two buried infants and a cremated 3-year-old boy. During the last ice age, Alaska was connected to modern Russia by a land bridge that remained largely ice-free. The inhabitants of this region, known as Beringia, went on to colonise North America when the climate warmed, starting about 16,000 years ago.

9-18-15 Scientists seek permission to genetically modify embryos
Scientists seek permission to genetically modify embryos
UK scientists are seeking permission to genetically modify human embryos for the first time. Researchers at The Francis Crick Institute in London want to use a controversial genetic technique to carry out research into infertility. The embryos would be destroyed after the research and not implanted into the womb.

9-17-15 Global study reveals soaring antibiotic resistance in India
Global study reveals soaring antibiotic resistance in India
Antibiotic resistance rates are so high in some regions that new drugs may not work unless misuse of antibiotics stops, say researchers. The analysis reveals soaring rates of resistance in countries of growing wealth, especially India, where more people are demanding antibiotics for minor infections, and resistance rates among bacteria are soaring. “We’ve seen a huge increase in MRSA in India, from 29 per cent of isolates in 2009 to 47 per cent in 2014,” says Laxminarayan. Equally alarming, he says, is a surge in Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause fatal lung infections. It is resistant to Carbapenems, an antibiotic that is used as a last resort. In 2014 57 per cent of samples tested in India were resistant, compared with virtually none six years ago. “These bugs weren’t a problem at all, but now we stand on the brink of almost losing a whole class of vital antibiotics,” says Laxminarayan.

9-16-15 Key moments in human evolution were shaped by changing climate
Key moments in human evolution were shaped by changing climate
The climate's role in our evolution has been debated for over a century. Now it seems environmental change rather than a particular environment made us who we are. HUMANS were born, almost literally, of fire and ice. Periods of wildly changing climate seem to have driven some of the major evolutionary steps that made us who we are. The ways in which climate affected human evolution have been hotly debated for over a century. A persistent idea is that the challenging climate of southern Africa – a sparsely vegetated, dry savannah – drove humans to walk on two legs, grow large brains and develop technology.

9-16-15 Green Arabia's key role in human evolution
Green Arabia's key role in human evolution
Scientists have been illuminating the vital role played by the Arabian Peninsula in humankind's exodus from Africa. Far from being a desert, the region was once covered by lush vegetation and criss-crossed by rivers, providing rich hunting grounds for our ancestors. As the sun rises over a vast sand sea in the Arabian Peninsula its first rays illuminate a number of hand axes scattered over the surface of the arid desert. For the first time, the technical expertise of scientists in varied disciplines including palaeontology, geochronology and mapping is being combined to take a holistic look at the role played by Saudi Arabia in the African exodus.

9-11-15 Crops farmed by leafcutter ants show signs of domestication
Crops farmed by leafcutter ants show signs of domestication
Fungus-farming ants seem to have selected for genome duplications in their crop, just like human farmers, allowing them to expand the size of their colonies. Leafcutter ants in the rainforests of South America beat us to the invention of farming by some 50 million years. Now it seems that their fungus crop has undergone the same genetic changes as human crops. As people selectively bred new crop plants, they often inadvertently made changes to their genomes. Wheat, bananas, tobacco and strawberries are all polyploid – meaning they have three or more copies of each chromosome rather than the usual two. Now, a team at Copenhagen University have discovered that leafcutter ant crops are the same. Pepijn Kooij and colleagues compared the fungus farmed by leafcutter ants with fungus kept by their less-specialised relatives. The latter ants’ crop consistently had two copies of each chromosome, whereas leafcutter fungus was polyploid, with between five and seven different copies.

9-10-15 GM embryos 'essential', says report
GM embryos 'essential', says report
It is "essential" that the genetic modification of human embryos is allowed, says a group of scientists, ethicists and policy experts. A Hinxton Group report says editing the genetic code of early stage embryos is of "tremendous value" to research. It adds although GM babies should not be allowed to be born at the moment, it may be "morally acceptable" under some circumstances in the future. The US refuses to fund research involving the gene editing of embryos. The global Hinxton Group met in response to the phenomenal advances taking place in the field of genetics.

9-10-15 CRISPR genome editing 'an important tool'
CRISPR genome editing 'an important tool'
An international group of prominent ethicists and scientists has said it is essential that editing of the human genome should be allowed for research. The Hinxton Group also says the door should not be closed on one day allowing genetic engineering of humans. Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier was one of the two co-discoverers of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that is now commonly used in biology labs around the world - although use of the system in federally-funded research on human embryos is currently banned in the US. Prof Charpentier spoke to BBC News about the potential of this incredibly powerful tool for research and treatment of disease.

9-10-15 New human-like species naledi discovered in South Africa
New human-like species naledi discovered in South Africa
Scientists have discovered a new human-like species in a cave in South Africa. The discovery of 15 partial skeletons is the largest ever discovery of primitive human remains in Africa. The individuals are part human and part ape and researchers say that the species called naledi could be a "bridge" between the two. There is evidence that they may have been capable of ritual behaviour seen only in modern humans millions of years earlier than previously thought.

9-10-15 New human-like species discovered in S Africa
New human-like species discovered in S Africa
Scientists have discovered a new human-like species in a burial chamber deep in a cave system in South Africa. The discovery of 15 partial skeletons is the largest single discovery of its type in Africa. The researchers claim that the discovery will change ideas about our human ancestors. The studies which have been published in the journal Elife also indicate that these individuals were capable of ritual behaviour.

9-10-15 New species of extinct human found in cave may rewrite history
New species of extinct human found in cave may rewrite history
Thousands of bones of Homo naledi recovered in South Africa's chamber of secrets show unique features – and may be the relics of an ancient burial site. ONE thousand four hundred bones, 140 teeth, belonging to at least 15 individual skeletons – and that’s just what was recovered in a single short field session. The early human fossil record isn’t normally this rich. For a century, palaeoanthropologists have generally learned to make do with slim pickings – part of a face here, a jawbone fragment there. Now, from the depths of a cave in South Africa, has come a monster cache of hominin bones from a previously unknown early species of our own genus, Homo. The sheer number of bones and their location hint at something even more astonishing: the bodies they belonged to appear to have been left deliberately in the cave. This has never been seen before in such a primitive human, and could have big implications for understanding the origins of modern human behaviour.

9-10-15 Homo naledi: Unanswered questions about the newest human species
Homo naledi: Unanswered questions about the newest human species
Did it use fire? Did it bury its dead? Could it speak? Many things about H. naledi set it apart from all other prehistoric humans. A primitive species of human. The adult male stood 1.5 metres tall, and the structure of the feet suggest it was bipedal for much of the time. The curvature of the fingers, however, similar to that seen in ape ancestors, and the shape of the shoulders, show that Homo naledi was also at home in the trees. There is a remarkable lack of diversity in the remains, which suggests that the bones were all from a single species, or even from a group of closely related individuals within a single species – perhaps a tribe or family. There is a range of ages, from infant to adult, and both males and females are probably present. Perhaps it would be better to call it a tomb, but whatever term you use, it is very rare to find so many early human bones in one place. The researchers suspect the bodies were indeed deposited down there deliberately. H. naledi‘s brain is much smaller, only about the size of a gorilla’s and a third the size of ours. If such primitive people were disposing of their dead, we will have to completely rethink the evolution of cognition and the appreciation of death.

9-7-15 Resistance to toad toxin shows evolution can repeat itself
Resistance to toad toxin shows evolution can repeat itself
Reptiles, insects and mammals that can resist neurotoxins all have a similar genetic mutation - the best example yet of evolution reusing an effective fix. Sometimes evolution just doesn’t have a choice. Reptiles have evolved to resist toad poisons four separate times, and each time they have made precisely the same biochemical changes to do it. What’s more, an even wider range of animals show similar adaptations in response to these toxins, giving us by far the most extensive illustration of so-called convergent evolution to date. The result suggests that the evolutionary battle between toxin and resistance takes place on a very small field indeed – something that could help conservationists protect native species from poisonous invaders.

9-7-15 Stone-age people were making porridge 32,000 years ago
Stone-age people were making porridge 32,000 years ago
Evidence of the earliest processing of oats by nomadic hunter-gatherers suggests that Europeans ate cereals thousands of years before farming took off. Hunter-gatherers ate oats as far back as 32,000 years ago – way before farming took root. This is the earliest known human consumption of oats, say Marta Mariotti Lippi at the University of Florence in Italy and her colleagues, who made the discovery after analysing starch grains on an ancient stone grinding tool from southern Italy. The Palaeolithic people ground up the wild oats to form flour, which they may have boiled or baked into a simple flatbread, says Mariotti Lippi.

9-3-15 Key enzyme helps country kids ward off allergies and asthma
Key enzyme helps country kids ward off allergies and asthma
Children's immune systems are less likely to be hypersensitive if they are exposed to rural dirt, but one enzyme may also be vital for this effect. Dirt is good for you: kids on farms are less likely to develop allergies and asthma than urban children, for example. But the protective effects of friendly microbes seem to depend equally on a person’s genetic make-up. The idea that a lack of exposure to dirt and microbes is to blame for increases in childhood allergies and asthma is known as the hygiene hypothesis. As for the underlying mechanism, there’s evidence that a bacterial protein called endotoxin is important for damping down overactive immune systems.

9-1-15 Enigma of the trees that resist wildfires
Enigma of the trees that resist wildfires
Spanish scientists Bernabé and José Moya couldn't believe their eyes. More than 20,000 hectares of forest were charred. But in the middle of the devastation, a group of cypresses was still standing tall and green.

9-1-15 Continental break-up set the stage for life in Earth’s mantle
Continental break-up set the stage for life in Earth’s mantle
The first evidence that ancient microbes colonised subsea mantle rock hints at how life might have emerged on Earth – and even other worlds. The break-up of continents may have allowed life to emerge on Earth. One hint of this has emerged from rocks deep beneath the sea floor off Portugal, which date back 125 million years, to the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea. Frieder Klein of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and his team have found fossilised microbes in these rocks, using samples collected in 1990s. Pangaea’s break-up allowed ocean water and hydrothermal fluids below the sea floor to mix underground in newly created fissures and cavities, creating a suitable chemical environment for life – one that may exist on other planetary bodies in our solar system. Seawater provided the additional materials – particularly oxygen, sulphates and bicarbonates – needed for microbes to generate energy from the hydrogen and methane already abundant in the mantle rock’s hydrothermal fluid.

8-26-15 Darwin's fast-evolving finches use a natural insect repellent
Darwin's fast-evolving finches use a natural insect repellent
Four species of the iconic birds on the Galapagos Islands rub themselves with leaves that deter mosquitoes and parasitic flies. Mosquitoes and parasitic flies can be as deadly for birds as they can for humans. Stowaway mosquitoes brought on tourist planes pose a deadly threat to the iconic birds on the Galapagos Islands. But the innovative birds – Darwin’s finches – have worked out a way to fight them. Birds from four species of Darwin’s finches were picking leaves from a Galapagos guava tree, Psidium galapageium, and rubbing them into their feathers. The leaves repel mosquitoes and inhibit the growth of the bloodthirsty parasitic larvae.

8-26-15 Thousands of microbes found in house dust
Thousands of microbes found in house dust
The dust in our homes contains an average of 9,000 different species of microbes, a study suggests.

8-25-15 Hidden viral protein brings universal flu jab closer
Hidden viral protein brings universal flu jab closer
Flu subtly changes each year to stop us becoming fully immune. A normally hidden protein that stays the same in all flu viruses could make a universal vaccine. Flu viruses are scam artists: they fool people’s immune systems so we never become fully immune to flu, no matter how many times we catch it. But virologists have been searching for a way to beat the scammers – a vaccine that will work against all kinds of flu. This week, two research groups got a lot closer.

8-24-15 Hormones boost placebo effect by making you want to cooperate
Hormones boost placebo effect by making you want to cooperate
Therapies based on hormones that make us more trusting enhance our natural placebo effect – a finding that could alter the way clinical trials are conducted. A placebo can make you feel a little better – and now we know how to boost the effect. Drugs based on hormones that make us more cooperative seem to enhance the placebo effect. The finding could lead to changes in the way some trials are performed. Sometimes a sugar pill can be all you need, even when you know it doesn’t contain any medicine. We’re still not entirely sure why. The brain’s natural painkillers, such as dopamine and opioids, seem to be involved, but other factors may be at work too. Evidence that a compassionate, trustworthy carer can speed recovery suggests that there is also a social dimension to the placebo effect. (Webmaster's comment: It's all in your genetics, like so much of behavior is.)

8-20-15 Genetic switch makes fat cells burn energy rather than store it
Genetic switch makes fat cells burn energy rather than store it
We now know how to turn fat cells into ones that burn calories as heat rather than store them – raising the prospect of a gene therapy for obesity. A master gene that orders fat cells to burn energy rather than store it has been found. Tinkering with it made mice lose weight as their fat-storing cells were converted into fat-burning cells, raising the prospect of a gene therapy to treat obesity. “You could say we’ve found fat cells’ radiator, and how to turn it up or down,” says Manolis Kellis, who co-led the team that carried out the work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at nearby Harvard Medical School. Not all fat is created equal. Humans carry several different types. White fat is the insulating stuff that builds up around our middles, storing energy rather than burning it. Brown fat, which is found in small pockets around our neck and spinal cord, does the opposite – burning calories to produce heat. Beige fat is somewhere in between. It has a different origin to classical brown fat and is dispersed within white fat cells – but it also burns calories without us expending any effort.

8-20-15 Humans are 'unique super-predator'
Humans are 'unique super-predator'
Humans' status as a unique super-predator is laid bare in a new study published in Science magazine. The analysis of global data details the ruthlessness of our hunting practices and the impacts we have on prey. It shows how humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine animals do themselves. And on land, we kill top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate. But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey.

8-20-15 Watery time capsule hints at how life got started on early Earth
Watery time capsule hints at how life got started on early Earth
Water locked away in rocks for 1.5 billion years reveals conditions were right for complex organic molecules to form in deep sea hydrothermal vents. It has all the ingredients of a primordial soup. What’s more, the chemicals of life – discovered in a pocket of water that last saw the light of day 1.5 billion years ago – appear to have formed without any influence from biological processes. That means the idea that life got started as a result of chemical reactions around deep-sea vents looks more likely.

8-20-15 Ant knows how to self-medicate to fight off fungal infection
Ant knows how to self-medicate to fight off fungal infection
When their bodies are under attack by a fungus, one species of ant chooses food laced with hydrogen peroxide and is more likely to live as a result. It’s a nasty poison, but for an ant fighting off a dangerous fungus, it could be the only hope. For the first time, ants have been seen self-medicating – on food rich in hydrogen peroxide. Large, dense colonies of social insects like ants and bees can be particularly vulnerable to parasite infections and fungal diseases. One way to manage this might be to ingest otherwise harmful substances to fight the infections, but conclusive evidence of this behaviour in insects had been elusive.

8-19-15 Suicidal behaviour predicted by blood test showing gene changes
Suicidal behaviour predicted by blood test showing gene changes
Variations in gene activity seem to indicate when someone is considering suicide. A test for it could save lives – and shake up psychiatry. CAN you spot whether someone is likely to try to take their own life? In hindsight, it can seem obvious, but at the time, doctors and relatives rarely have much more than intuition to go on. Now a blood test could help doctors identify those most at risk. The idea marks a shift in diagnostic approaches to mental health, and has drawn criticism from some psychiatrists. Chemicals in the blood may provide a much-needed clue. Alexander Niculescu of Indiana University in Indianapolis and his colleagues have developed a questionnaire and blood test that together predicted with 92 per cent accuracy who among a group of 108 men receiving psychiatric treatment would develop suicidal feelings over the next year. They identified 11 gene changes that could be biological markers for spotting people who might be considering suicide. Preliminary evidence suggests the test also works for women. (Webmaster's comment: Makes sense. We are an integrated mind-body being. Nothing in us acts in isolation. And the genes are at the root of our behavior, like it or not.)

8-19-15 Oldest hand hints we came down from trees earlier than thought
Oldest hand hints we came down from trees earlier than thought
The discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old pinky bone in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge suggests that our ancestors had already come down from the trees by that time. THE discovery of a 1.8-million-year-old pinky bone suggests that modern human hands, good at tool use but bad at tree climbing, evolved earlier than we thought. The bone found in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge is the earliest modern-human-like hand bone ever found, and pushes back the origin of our dextrous digits by some 400,000 years. The find suggests that by 1.8 million years ago, a Homo sapiens-like species had already made the transition to terrestrial living, and coexisted with smaller, more tree-dwelling Homo habilis and Paranthropus boisei. This bone belongs to somebody who’s not spending any time in the trees at all.

8-19-15 Early Britons: Have we underestimated our ancestors?
Early Britons: Have we underestimated our ancestors?
Have we underestimated the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age? Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that early Britons were more sophisticated than we could have imagined. Archaeologists once thought that the story of the early hunter-gatherer Britons was lost to the mists of time. Thanks to cutting-edge science, we now have an increasingly clear picture of prehistory, and the adaptable, culturally rich, and sophisticated people who inhabited these islands. (Webmaster's comment: Early mankind was just as intelligent as we are, they just did not know as much. Given what they did know they applied their considerable intelligence to come up with sophisticated solutions to the problems they faced. Why would we expect anything else?)

8-19-15 Comet impacts cook up 'soup of life'
Comet impacts cook up 'soup of life'
New results show how collisions between comets and planets can make molecules that are the essential building blocks of life. This suggests that the chemistry needed to gather the molecular ingredients for life could be more common than previously recognised. Earth scientists from Japan carried out experiments to mimic comet impacts that occurred on early Earth. They found chemical reactions to make the primordial "soup for life" can occur anywhere that comets collide.

8-17-15 Shattered Stone-Age bones expose world's oldest mass torture
Shattered Stone-Age bones expose world's oldest mass torture
Grim find of 26 mutilated bodies in Germany is earliest evidence of mass torture, challenging the view of rural harmony among early Europeans. Whoever the assailants were, they probably arrived at dawn. Catching their victims unawares, they hacked the shinbones of as many villagers as possible to prevent them escaping, then bludgeoned them all to death with blows to the head before dumping them in a mass grave. The find is the third known massacre site from this period, and suggests that despite the popular image of peaceful harmony among Europe’s pastoral inhabitants, friction between communities was building up, perhaps because of crop failures, overcrowding or pressure for land. (Webmaster's comment: Don't be surprised. Humans have been performing mass murders thoughout their entire history. Early mankind would have been no exception. The worst latest was the Americans napalming peasant villages in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.)

8-17-15 German mass grave records prehistoric warfare
German mass grave records prehistoric warfare
A mass grave containing at least 26 skeletons is further evidence of the brutal conflict that appears to have beset central Europe 7,000 years ago. Individuals had their heads smashed. Some even had their legs broken, which could indicate they were also tortured. The condition of the burial pit fits an emerging pattern of widespread violence in Early Neolithic times. Similar mass graves have been unearthed at Talheim, also in Germany, and at Asparn/Schletz in Austria.

8-17-15 Owls use 'stealth technology' to capture prey
Owls use 'stealth technology' to capture prey
Owls use what scientists and engineers are calling ‘stealth technology’ to help them capture prey, new research suggests.

8-14-15 Ancient whistle language uses whole brain for long-distance chat
Ancient whistle language uses whole brain for long-distance chat
A whistled form of Turkish used to communicate across mountain valleys shows that it's not just the left side of the brain that processes language. You could say they sent the first tweets. An ancient whistling language that sounds a little like birdsong has been found to use both sides of the brain – challenging the idea that the left side is all important for communicating. The whistling language is still used by around 10,000 people in the mountains of north-east Turkey, and can carry messages as far as 5 kilometres. Researchers have now shown that this language involves the brain’s right hemisphere, which was already known to be important for understanding music.

8-14-15 Moon’s gravity could govern plant movement like the tides
Moon’s gravity could govern plant movement like the tides
Historical data on how plants move over the course of the day seems to show that they line up with the position of the moon. The movement of plant leaves may be partially governed by the gravitational pull of the moon, just like ocean tides. Some plants’ leaves rise and fall during the day-night cycle, mostly in reaction to light in their environment. But plants grown in the dark have similar cycles, which hints that something else – generally accepted to be a form of internal circadian clock – may be at work as well.

8-14-15 Gene therapy cures blindness by replacing vision cells in eyes
Gene therapy cures blindness by replacing vision cells in eyes
Blind mice with destroyed retinas ran away from a swooping owl after treatment reprogrammed different cells in their eyes to detect light. When the owl swooped, the “blind” mice ran away. This was thanks to a new type of gene therapy to reprogramme cells deep in the eye to sense light. After treatment, the mice ran for cover when played a video of an approaching owl, just like mice with normal vision.

8-13-15 Mystery of Australia’s five-legged animals cracked
Mystery of Australia’s five-legged animals cracked
The need to hop fast in open habitats seems to have driven the evolution of an odd habit in some of Australia's iconic marsupials, they use their tail as a fifth leg. Kangaroos were recently confirmed to use their tail as a fifth leg. While most ground-dwelling mammals simply use their tail for balance, kangaroos can firmly place theirs down on the ground and lift their body up and away, allowing them to swing their back legs forward while they support their weight on their front legs and tail.

8-11-15 Darting eyes in REM sleep are seeing objects in your dreams
Darting eyes in REM sleep are seeing objects in your dreams
When your eyes move during sleep, are they "seeing" anything? Research suggests these movements could be looking at objects in our mind's eye. Your body may be still, but as you dream, your eyes can flicker manically. The rapid eye movement stage of sleep is when we have our most vivid dreams – but do our flickering eyes actually “see” anything? Until now, much of the evidence has been anecdotal, says Nir. “People who were woken up when their eyes were moving from left to right would say they were dreaming about tennis, for example,” he says. More evidence comes from a previous study that monitored the sleep of people who have a disorder that means they often physically act out their dreams. Their eye movements matched their actions around 80 per cent of the time – a man dreaming about smoking, for example, appeared to look at a dream ashtray as he put out a cigarette.

8-11-15 Track individual tigers just by listening to them roar
Track individual tigers just by listening to them roar
Do tigers have unique voices? A new conservation project says it can tell one big cat from another by analysing their growls, chuffs, and roars. No two tigers sound alike. That’s the idea behind The Prusten Project, a conservation initiative in the US that wants to use audio to track tigers in the wild. (Webmaster's comment: If humans can hear the differences, tigers certainly can, and it follows they also can tell what individual tiger is "speaking.")

8-10-15 Pitcher plant in France eats bee-killing Asian hornets
Pitcher plant in France eats bee-killing Asian hornets
Bee-killing Asian hornets spreading across Europe now face a natural enemy that lures them to destruction - a carnivorous North American plant, French experts say. The head of a botanical garden in Nantes, western France, says the pitcher plant Sarracenia devours Asian hornets - but not European hornets. Nor does it eat bees or wasps.

8-7-15 Bird flies 16,000-kilometre Pacific circuit for no clear reason
Bird flies 16,000-kilometre Pacific circuit for no clear reason
A puffin relative is the only bird to migrate between western Canada and Japan, then fly back – but what for? Conditions are the same at both ends. Most migrating birds travel long distances from north to south, or vice versa, to spend the harsher winter in warmer climates, often crossing the equator. Some travel from east to west, to areas where they can get more food. But the ancient murrelet is unique, criss-crossing the Pacific to move between areas of similar climate. Some of them breed in western Canada and then winter in seas between Japan, China and Korea, before heading back to Canada – the only bird known to cross the full width of the North Pacific. (Webmaster's comment: The migration path obviously evolved as a solution to some environmental challenge in the past which may still be present. Scientists will figure out why in time.)

8-7-15 How did our ancestors develop the very first language?
How did our ancestors develop the very first language?
A game of vocal charades shows we naturally match words to sounds with acoustic properties that reflect meaning. The finding could shed light on how language arose.

8-6-15 Zoologger: World’s first venomous frog has the kiss of death
Zoologger: World’s first venomous frog has the kiss of death
Two frog species from Brazil are the first and so far only venomous frogs. One of them is 25 times more poisonous than Brazilian pit-vipers. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution at work on a creature's defense against predators. You bite me, you die.)

8-5-15 The linguistic tricks that hint at how we first created language
The linguistic tricks that hint at how we first created language
An elaborate game of charades shows we naturally use sounds with specific acoustic properties to convey meaning. This could shed light on how language arose.

8-5-15 The mystery of Neanderthals' massive eyes
The mystery of Neanderthals' massive eyes
Our extinct cousins had eyes much larger than ours. Were these giant peepers the reason for the Neanderthals' demise, or the secret of their success?

8-3-15 Sex life of ancient Fractofusus organism revealed
Sex life of ancient Fractofusus organism revealed
One of the earliest complex organisms had a surprisingly complicated sex life, scientists say. Until now, little was known about the biology of Fractofusus, which lived in the ocean 565 million years ago. But new research has revealed a dual mode of reproduction. In one method, the organism sprouted young from its body in much the same way that a spider plant or strawberry plant multiplies. In another, it produced seeds or tiny buds into the water column. This allowed the ancient life-form to produce clones that could colonise a new patch of seabed.

7-31-15 Mutation alert halts stem-cell trial to cure blindness
Mutation alert halts stem-cell trial to cure blindness
The first ever trial of reprogrammed stem cells is put on hold while scientists investigate whether the procedure caused a potentially cancerous mutation. A pioneering stem-cell trial has been halted after genetic mutations were discovered in the cells of the second trial participant. One of the mutations may carry a remote risk of cancer. (Webmaster's comment: We have to be super careful. The power of evolution is the most powerful biological force in the universe. Using it's tools to fix a problem could easily cause unintended results along with any "cure.")

7-31-15 Caterpillar drugs ants to turn them into zombie bodyguards
Caterpillar drugs ants to turn them into zombie bodyguards
Ants protect caterpillars in exchange for a sugary secretion, but there're more to their relationship than meets the eye. Docile ants become aggressive guard dogs after a secret signal from their caterpillar overlord. The idea turns on its head the assumption that the two species exchange favours in an even-handed relationship.

7-29-15 Megafauna extinction: DNA evidence pins blame on climate change
Megafauna extinction: DNA evidence pins blame on climate change
Humanity has long been on trial for the demise of mammoths and other large mammals – new forensic evidence reveals the true killer. HUMANS were not to blame for the extinction of prehistoric giant mammals after all – global warming was the real culprit, according to new evidence. Look close at the data and the pattern emerging is that climate change is linked to extinctions, regardless of whether humans were there or not.

7-29-15 'Leaders and lifters' help ants move massive meals
'Leaders and lifters' help ants move massive meals
Scientists in Israel have discovered how ants co-operate to move big chunks of food back to their nests. A large team of ants does the heavy lifting but they lack direction, while a small number of "scouts" intervene and steer for short periods. They appear to have a mathematically perfect balance between individuality and conformism, the researchers said. The ants seem to have just the right amount of erratic individualism. About 90% of the time, they will "go with the flow" and pull in the same direction as everybody else; the other 10% of the time they live up to their name. That means that on the whole, each ant transport team works together and avoids a fruitless tug-of-war. But crucially, their erratic streak leaves a degree of instability - and this allows a single ant with new information to join in and change the direction. (Webmaster's comment: All species are products of evolution. From bacteria, to ants, to dinosaurs - see below, to humans. And it never, ever stops.)

7-29-15 Structural secret of T. rex's bone-crushing teeth
Structural secret of T. rex's bone-crushing teeth
Scientists have discovered the unique internal structure of the serrated teeth belonging to carnivorous dinosaurs like T. rex and Allosaurus. This structure allowed them to rip through flesh and bones of larger animals, surviving as top predators for around 165 million years. (Webmaster's comment: To match that humans only have 164.8 million years to go.)

7-28-15 Why we like to believe that dinosaurs were scaly
Why we like to believe that dinosaurs were scaly
Once thought to be terrifying, scaly lizards, it now seems dinosaurs were actually more like birds. But not everyone's ready to accept their new image, writes Mary Colwell. (Webamster's comment: Makes sense. Birds are the decendents of dinosaurs. If follows that bird's ancestors would look somewhat like they do. Just like primates look somewhat like humans.)

7-28-15 Ancient "human" tooth found in French cave
Ancient "human" tooth found in French cave
A human tooth dating to around 565,000 years ago has been found by a 16-year-old volunteer in France. The tooth was found at Arago cave near the village of Tautavel, one of the world's most important prehistoric sites; it has been under excavation for about 50 years. The owner of the tooth - a very worn lower incisor - lived during a cold and dry period, according to scientists. They hunted horses, reindeer, bison and rhinoceros. (Webmaster's comment: This was not a homo sapiens tooth, but a tooth from one of our many hominid ancestors.)

7-24-15 Resistant bacteria don’t just evade drugs – they are fitter too
Resistant bacteria don’t just evade drugs – they are fitter too
When bacteria acquire antibiotic-resistance genes they become better at surviving in the body, challenging the dogma that resistance comes with a cost. Becoming resistant to drugs gives bacteria superpowers, making them stronger and potentially more deadly. (Webmaster's comment: What doesn't kill you results in your species' offspring being stronger!)

7-24-15 Four-legged snake ancestor 'dug burrows'
Four-legged snake ancestor 'dug burrows'
A 113-million-year-old fossil from Brazil is the first four-legged snake that scientists have ever seen. Several other fossil snakes have been found with hind limbs, but the new find is estimated to be a direct ancestor of modern snakes.

7-23-15 Four-legged fossil holds secret of snake’s slithering origins
Four-legged fossil holds secret of snake’s slithering origins
An ancient animal with a serpent-like body plan and four tiny legs could reveal details about the evolutionary origins of snakes. Some 120 million years ago, dinosaurs still ruled the world – and some snakes had four legs. That’s according to a new analysis of a fossil unearthed in Brazil. The newly emerged specimen was found in the fossil-rich Crato formation in the Brazilian state of Ceará. “It has a single row of belly scales, it has very snake-like vertebrae, it has a body longer than the tail, it has hundreds of vertebrae, it has the remains of other vertebrate animals in the stomach and so it was a carnivore, it has backward pointing teeth. All these things make it a snake.

7-23-15 Megafauna extinction: DNA evidence pins blame on climate change
Megafauna extinction: DNA evidence pins blame on climate change
Humanity has long been on trial for the demise of mammoths and other large mammals – new forensic evidence reveals the true killer. New forensic DNA evidence is painting a detailed picture of the death of the world’s megafauna – and it suggests that humans were not to blame. Megafauna extinctions were actually relatively common during the past 60,000 years whether humans were around or not.

7-23-15 Everything you need to know about lactose intolerance
Everything you need to know about lactose intolerance
Not everyone who consumes milk regularly can digest it, and people who think they are lactose intolerant may not be. The ability to digest lactose, the main sugar in milk, requires an enzyme called lactase. All baby mammals produce it, but it is normally switched off around the time of weaning. A mutation which allowed adults to keep producing lactase emerged around 7000 years ago, and now 35 per cent of people can digest milk as adults.

7-22-15 Semen has controlling power over female genes and behaviour
Semen has controlling power over female genes and behaviour
Seminal fluid alters gene expression in females, including humans. It can even alter behaviour in fruit flies, but does it do the same in women? In many animals, seminal fluid alters both the bodies and sometimes even the behaviour of females. Human semen, too, triggers changes in the uterus, and might have wider effects on women, aimed at just one goal. “It’s all about maximising the chances of the male reproducing.”

7-22-15 Lizard's water-funnelling skin copied in the lab
Lizard's water-funnelling skin copied in the lab
Scientists have unpicked how the skin of the Texas horned lizard funnels water towards its mouth - and copied the principles in a plastic version. This reptile can collect water from anywhere, including the sand it walks on; the fluid then travels to its mouth through channels between its scales. (Webmaster's comment: Amazing! If it helps you survive evolution will eventually do it.)

7-21-15 Fish flick genetic switch to dodge climate change disaster
Fish flick genetic switch to dodge climate change disaster
Two-generation epigenetic trick can deal with devastating effects of warmer waters. Who knew fish were such expert flippers? One species at least can flip a bank of genes on and off to cope with warmer water within just two generations. (Webmaster's comment: Obviously they've been there, done that before. So evolution built in the survival mechanism, but there will be limits.)

7-20-15 Archerfish up their game to outgun rivals stealing their catch
Archerfish up their game to outgun rivals stealing their catch
Their accurate water jets rarely fail to down prey above water, but archerfish had to sharpen up to outdo their more numerous rivals under the surface. To survive, archerfish have had to evolve new, sharper hunting skills such as “predictive start”, whereby they launch themselves towards where the prey will hit the water while it is still falling. But although this helps them to beat halfbeaks during the day, archerfish have had to give up hunting at night, when halfbeaks’ skills come to the fore. (Webmaster's comment: Again evolution does its thing.)

7-17-15 Can’t get Kylie out of your head? Blame the shape of your brain
Can’t get Kylie out of your head? Blame the shape of your brain
The reason some people get catchy tunes stuck in their head more than others might be just because their brains are shaped differently. The song really is literally stuck in your head. The experience of hearing tunes in your mind appears to be linked to physical differences in brain structure.

7-16-15 Gene therapy cures blindness by healing eyes and brain together
Gene therapy cures blindness by healing eyes and brain together
As well as repairing retinal cells, gene therapy reawakens visual pathways in the brain, enabling people with type of heritable blindness to see again. Gene therapy to reverse blindness repairs damaged cells in the eye and also rearranges the brain to help process the new information.

7-16-15 The dolphins that kill each other's young
The dolphins that kill each other's young
For the first time, a team has witnessed a bottlenose dolphin giving birth in the wild. Minutes after, the calf was attacked by two males. It's called infanticide and it occurs in many species, from lions to monkeys. It has rarely been observed in dolphins, but it does happen, despite their cuddly reputation.

7-16-15 How mosquitoes zero in on warm bodies
How mosquitoes zero in on warm bodies
New research suggests that mosquitoes track down something to bite using a sequence of three cues: smell, then sight, and finally heat.

7-15-15 Tiny beating human heart made from scratch
Tiny beating human heart made from scratch
By recreating the physical forces that developing cells experience, stem cells have been coaxed into forming microscopic beating hearts. The micro-hearts are around half a millimetre in diameter, and each has its own ventricle-like chamber. It’s the first time that researchers have managed to create three-dimensional heart-like organs in the lab from stem cells alone, without using any sort of scaffold to create the organ’s shape.

7-14-15 Why do humans kiss each other when most animals don't?
Why do humans kiss each other when most animals don't?
A new study finds that half of human cultures don't practice romantic lip-on-lip kissing. Animals don't tend to bother either. So how did it evolve? People in western societies may assume that romantic kissing is a universal human behaviour, but a new analysis suggests that less than half of all cultures actually do it. Kissing is also extremely rare in the animal kingdom.

7-9-15 Scientists rush to freeze plant DNA before 'sixth extinction'
Scientists rush to freeze plant DNA before 'sixth extinction'
As the world enters into a sixth great extinction, scientists are racing against the clock to save genetic evidence from plants around the world. An ambitious project launched Wednesday to collect the genomes of the planet's major plant groups within the next two years and put them into deep freeze. The project is part of the Global Genome Initiative, which aims to gather and preserve the DNA of all life on Earth in cryo-storage facilities.

7-9-15 Mice with hereditary deafness hear again thanks to gene therapy
Mice with hereditary deafness hear again thanks to gene therapy
Compensating for a gene that's often to blame for hereditary deafness could lead to medical treatments for the condition in as little as five years' time. Holt's team is the first to use gene therapy to treat hereditary deafness. Inherited conditions account for at least half of all childhood deafness. More than 70 genes are known to cause various forms of hereditary deafness, but Holt chose to focus on one called TMC1, which accounts for 4 to 8 per cent of cases.

7-8-15 Saving plants from the 'sixth mass extinction'
Saving plants from the 'sixth mass extinction'
An ambitious project launched Wednesday to collect the genomes of the planet's major plant groups within the next two years and put them into deep freeze. The project is part of the Global Genome Initiative, which aims to gather and preserve the DNA of all life on Earth in cryo-storage facilities.

7-5-15 Peeking into the brain's filing system
Peeking into the brain's filing system
Storing information so that you can easily find it again is a challenge. From purposefully messy desks to indexed filing cabinets, we all have our preferred systems. How does it happen inside our brains? A key component is the small, looping structure called the hippocampus, buried quite deep beneath the brain's wrinkled outer layer. It is only a few centimetres in length but is very well connected to other parts of the brain. It seemed that single brain cells, in the hippocampus, had been caught in the act of forming a new association. And they do it very fast. So traces of that experience are rather scattered across the cortex. To remember it, the brain needs some sort of index to find them all again. "Think of the [cortex] as a huge library and the hippocampus as its librarian."

7-4-15 Cats 'control mice' with chemicals in their urine
Cats 'control mice' with chemicals in their urine
Cat v mouse: it is probably the most famous predator-prey pairing, enshrined in idioms and a well-known cartoon. And cats, it turns out, even have chemical warfare in their anti-mouse arsenal - contained in their urine. Researchers found that when very young mice were exposed to a chemical in cat urine, they were less likely to avoid the scent of cats later in life.

7-3-15 Everything's coming up roses after scent gene is found
Everything's coming up roses after scent gene is found
The discovery of a gene responsible for fragrance could help restore the sweet smell accidentally bred out of roses cultivated for the cut-flower market. The discovery could help restore the classic scent accidentally bred out of rose varieties cultivated for other traits. Roses commonly sold in flower shops, for example, have been bred for beauty and hardiness rather than smell.

7-3-15 Gene therapy works in cystic fibrosis for the first time
Gene therapy works in cystic fibrosis for the first time
A technique that compensates for the faulty gene in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis improves lung power – and may lead to similar approaches for other lung conditions. Twenty six years after the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis was identified, researchers have shown that people with the lung-damaging condition can benefit from gene therapy.

7-1-15 Want tall, smart children? Find an exotic stranger
Want tall, smart children? Find an exotic stranger
Your kids are also more likely to get good grades if you choose a partner who is not a close relative. It's good to be mixed-up. People whose parents are distantly related are, on average, taller, smarter and better educated than those whose parents are close relatives.

7-1-15 Zoologger: The lizard that changes its sex to suit the weather
Zoologger: The lizard that changes its sex to suit the weather
In hot weather, Australia's bearded dragon eggs can become a reproducing female, even if they are genetically male.

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