95 Evolution News Articles
from 4th Quarter of 2015
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
276 evolution science news articles in 2015.
The creationists have nothing to refute even a fraction of these.
12-30-15 3 billion-year-old fossils show early microbes lived in cavities
3 billion-year-old fossils show early microbes lived in cavities
Fossil bacteria found in South Africa suggest that spaces covered by tidal sediments provided a sanctuary from heavy UV radiation on Mars-like early Earth. SOME don’t like it hot. Early microbes looked for shade when the sun was strong, just like we do. We think life first emerged on Earth in the Archean aeon or earlier, when the planet was scorched by deadly UV radiation and had no ozone layer to protect it – a bit like Mars is today. So life at the surface would have found survival a challenge. Now bacteria fossils dating back 3.2 billion years have been found in cavities in tidal sediments in South Africa (Geology, doi.org/96n). This shows that life was possible very close to the surface back then, says Alessandro Airo at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, whose colleague Martin Homann analysed the fossils. This bodes well for the history of life on Mars. “It could well be that microbes thrived even on the surface of Mars and not necessarily only in deep water or the subsurface,” Airo says.
12-28-15 Ancient DNA sheds light on Irish origins
Ancient DNA sheds light on Irish origins
Scientists have sequenced the first ancient human genomes from Ireland, shedding light on the genesis of Celtic populations. The genome is the instruction booklet for building a human, comprising three billion paired DNA "letters". The work shows that early Irish farmers were similar to southern Europeans. Genetic patterns then changed dramatically in the Bronze Age - as newcomers from the eastern periphery of Europe settled in the Atlantic region.
12-24-15 Liver hormone could tame our love of cakes and booze
Liver hormone could tame our love of cakes and booze
Dubbed the "sweet tooth hormone", FGF21 reduced how much sugar and alcohol monkeys wanted to consume. Love a sugar hit? Your sweet tooth may hail from an unlikely source: your liver. A hormone made by the organ appears to control how much carbohydrate and sugar we want to eat, and helps slow us down when we are overindulging. The hormone, called FGF21, has already been found to help obese mice lose weight and regain their sensitivity to insulin. A modified form is currently in clinical trials to test whether it has the same effect in people with diabetes. Our bodies break down carbohydrates into sugars such as sucrose, glucose and fructose. Recent genetic studies have suggested that people with altered levels of FGF21 consume more carbohydrates.
12-24-15 Tree-top turbulence helps flapping vultures soar
Tree-top turbulence helps flapping vultures soar
Some species of vultures have developed the ability to tap into turbulent air as a way of gaining altitude according to a new study. Researchers found that these species compensate for their poor flapping skills by seeking out turbulence at low altitudes. The researchers say this explains their awkward, wobbling flying style near tree-tops.
12-18-15 Polar bear family tree reveals adoptions and identical twins
Polar bear family tree reveals adoptions and identical twins
A pedigree of over 4000 polar bears has unearthed six generations of family secrets, including adoptions, incest, mistaken identities and identical twins. A pedigree of 4449 polar bears in Canada uncovers the family secrets of six generations, including the first reported case of identical polar bear twins, six adoptions and one case of sibling incest. Based on 45 years of field observations and genetic data, the family tree traces out the complicated histories of the Western Hudson Bay group of polar bears since 1966. “To me, the presence of identical twins was the most surprising part,” says René Malenfant at the University of Alberta, Canada. Female polar bears usually give birth to non-identical twins, but her team’s long-term data set enabled them to identify a pair of highly genetically similar male cubs that they believe are the first reported identical polar bear twins. (Webmaster's comment: They seem to be just like us, but really we are just like them. We are both animals and mammals and one should expect the same behavioral characteristics.)
12-18-15 200-year-old fossil mystery resolved
200-year-old fossil mystery resolved
Scientists have reconstructed how an ancient reptile swam in the oceans at the time of the dinosaurs. Computer simulations suggest the plesiosaur moved through the water like a penguin, using its front limbs as paddles and back limbs for steering. The creature's swimming gait has been a mystery since bones of the first known specimen were dug out of a Dorset cliff 200 years ago. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution comes up with the same solutions for surviving and breeding again and again. And it only makes sense that similar environmental challenges result in similar solutions.)
12-17-15 New species of human may have shared our caves – and beds
New species of human may have shared our caves – and beds
A controversial bone discovery suggests we lived alongside a primitive species of human – and may have cannibalised them. This is the remarkable – though so far tentative – picture emerging from controversial discoveries from two caves in south-west China. If true, some think it could overturn our understanding of what it means to be human. Among the discoveries appears to be a primitive human species, which most closely resembles the earliest human species, Homo habilis and Homo erectus. But while these lived about 2 million years ago, this new species lived just 14,000 years ago, says Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who lead the team behind the discoveries. This would make it the most recent human species to have gone extinct.
12-17-15 Four genes discovered that will help you live beyond 100
Four genes discovered that will help you live beyond 100
Scanning the genomes of centenarians showed that four genes help them live longer. The discovery could boost the search for ways to protect against age-related diseases. ancy living to 100? Your chances are boosted if you carry protective variants of four newly discovered genes. They are: • ABO Determines blood group • CDKN2B Helps regulate cellular life cycles • SH2B3 Has been shown to extend lifespan in fruit flies • One of the HLA genes, which are involved in how the immune system recognises the body’s own cells
12-17-15 The animal that lives for 10,000 years
The animal that lives for 10,000 years
One creature can survive for millennia in the so-called 'Sea of Death'. Enter the brine shrimp, whose survival skills defy belief. You can safely dry them out, set them on fire, dissolve them in alcohol, deprive them of oxygen, zap them with ultraviolet light, boil them at 105 °C or chill them to temperatures approaching absolute zero: the point at which atoms stop moving. They can also survive extremes of pH that would dissolve human flesh, water that is 50% salt, or a bath of insecticides. They are happy in the vacuum of space or at the crushing pressures found under 6,000 metres (20,000 feet) of ocean. We are now starting to understand how they do it.
12-16-15 3 billion-year-old fossils show early microbes lived in cavities
3 billion-year-old fossils show early microbes lived in cavities
Fossil bacteria found in South Africa suggest that spaces covered by tidal sediments provided a sanctuary from heavy UV radiation on Mars-like early Earth. It seems the microbes that formed Earth’s first ecosystems looked for shade when the sun was strong, just like we do. Fossils found in South Africa suggest that cavities in tidal sediments might have provided refuge from deadly solar rays during the Archaean aeon when we think that life emerged on Earth. At this time, between 4 billion and 2.5 billion years ago, Earth was scorched by intense UV radiation, and had no ozone layer to protect it – a bit like Mars is today. So life at the surface would have found survival a challenge.
12-16-15 How hummingbirds avoid overheating
How hummingbirds avoid overheating
Colourful footage, shot with a thermal camera, has revealed how hummingbirds avoid overheating as they beat their wings up to 70 times per second. The birds have "windows" for heat loss, around their eyes, shoulder joints, feet and legs. This study, led by George Fox University in Oregon, US, is part of a Nasa-funded project to uncover the effects of climate change on the birds. Dissipating heat is complex in birds because feathers are such effective insulators. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution finds a way.)
12-12-15 'Suicide' gene therapy kills prostate cancer cells
'Suicide' gene therapy kills prostate cancer cells
The therapy causes prostate cancer cells to self destruct. A new gene therapy technique is able to modify prostate cancer cells so that a patient's body attacks and kills them, US scientists have discovered. The technique causes the tumour cells in the body to self-destruct, giving it the name 'suicide gene therapy'. Their research found a 20% improvement in survival in patients with prostate cancer five years after treatment. A cancer expert said more research was needed to judge its effectiveness.
12-10-15 Cricket's chirp may have 'predatory roots'
Cricket's chirp may have 'predatory roots'
Scientists have discovered that the chirps of some crickets could be a cunning way to "startle" potential mates into revealing their location. The Dartmouth College team discovered the insects' communication system and studied females' reactions to the males' songs. They say the call is likely to have evolved from males impersonating hunting bats and startling females. Females' shuddering response appears to allow males to locate a mate.
12-7-15 Resistance to last-resort antibiotic has now spread across globe
Resistance to last-resort antibiotic has now spread across globe
A gene that allows bacteria to resist one of our last effective antibiotics has been found in Denmark and China, prompting a worldwide search. The last drug has fallen. Bacteria carrying a gene that allows them to resist polymyxins, the antibiotics of last resort for some kinds of infection, have been found in Denmark and China, prompting a global search for the gene. The discovery means that gram-negative bacteria, which cause common gut, urinary and blood infections in humans, can now become “pan-resistant”, with genes that defeat all antibiotics now available. That will make some infections incurable, unless new kinds of antibiotics are brought to market soon. Colistin, the most common polymyxin, is a last-resort treatment for infections with bacteria such as E. coli and Klebsiella that resist all other available antibiotics. Not any more!
12-7-15 Why one lake contains more than 1000 species of the same fish
Why one lake contains more than 1000 species of the same fish
The secret to the unique diversity of Lake Malawi's cichlid fish may be down to huge variations in climate and water levels over the years. The poster child for evolution may have finally revealed its secret. More than 1000 closely related but different species of cichlid fish live in Lake Malawi in south-east Africa – more than in any other lake in the world. “They are remarkable,” says Christopher Scholz at the University of Syracuse in New York. The huge number of closely related species living together has meant they feature prominently in models of species diversification. But what made them so diverse has remained a mystery. Some think environmental forces drove the diversification, others that the underlying cause was biological, says Scholz. For example, some females are colour-blind to males that are a different colour to them, which can drive sexual isolation between different groups of fish. To try and settle the debate, Scholz and his team examined sediment records from the lake covering 1.3 million years. They found that over this period the water levels dropped by more than 200 metres around 24 times. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution is at work every generation. Encoding in DNA whatever helps all creatures survive and reproduce. Any change in the environment shortly results in a different encoding.)
12-7-15 The remote lake that tells the story of humanity's birth
The remote lake that tells the story of humanity's birth
Our ancient human ancestors were an elusive lot. Their remains are literally thin on the ground, and even when fossils are unearthed it is rare for them to be complete. Sometimes they must be pieced together from dozens of fragments. That is why a staggering find in 1984 excited the entire field, and continues to do so today over 30 years later. It was a skeleton of a young boy, discovered at Lake Turkana in the deserts of northern Kenya. He died when he was about eight years old and his bones sank into the sediments of the lake, where they were preserved for 1.5 million years. He was, and is, the most complete early-human fossil ever discovered. Yet "Turkana Boy" is just one of many early human fossils discovered near the lake. Together they span four million years of human evolution. This one spot has told us a huge amount about where we came from and how our ancestors lived.
12-4-15 New bacteria can resist all antibiotics
New bacteria can resist all antibiotics
Bacteria that can resist even the most powerful antibiotics are infecting livestock and people in China, raising the grave possibility that untreatable diseases could spread around the world. These superbugs are especially worrying because they have a mechanism that transfers drug resistance to other strains of bacteria. If their resistance spreads, it could trigger an antibiotic apocalypse, leaving doctors helpless to treat deadly infections. Until now, drug-resistant bacteria have remained susceptible to an antibiotic called colistin. But apparently this “last resort” drug has been so overused on livestock that some bacteria have developed a mutant gene to resist it. Researchers in China discovered the gene, known as MCR-1, in pigs and found that it had spread to a handful of hospital patients. What makes the mutation especially dangerous is that it is found on plasmids, DNA molecules that move freely between different bacterial strains. By riding on plasmids, the resistance gene can readily pass between common bacteria, such as E. coli, that cause pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Microbiologists warn that it may only be a matter of time before universal drug resistance is widespread and existing antibiotics are obsolete. “This isn’t going to happen overnight, and the number of infections that can only be treated by colistin is still relatively small,” study co-author Jim Spenser tells CBSNews.com. “But it highlights the urgent need for new treatments for these organisms and the limited time that we have to develop them.”
12-3-15 First trial of gene-editing treatment for haemophilia
First trial of gene-editing treatment for haemophilia
Scientists will edit genes directly inside the human body for the first time – helping people with haemophilia B make the enzyme necessary for blood to clot. The first attempt to edit the genes of cells inside the human body is about to take place. The technique being trialled aims to cure haemophilia B, a clotting disorder that can result in spontaneous internal bleeding.
12-3-15 Altering the DNA of humans - should we allow gene editing?
Altering the DNA of humans - should we allow gene editing?
Should scientists be allowed to do research which alters the DNA of human embryos? It is a question being discussed by hundreds of scientists from 20 countries in Washington, at a conference on what is known as gene editing. The technology makes it possible to change the genes parents pass on to their children. It might help prevent inherited diseases - but it also gives rise to fears about creating designer human beings.
12-3-15 Obese men found to make sperm with thousands of modified genes
Obese men found to make sperm with thousands of modified genes
The activity of thousands of sperm genes appears to differ between healthy and obese men, suggesting that a man's weight may be passed on to the next generation. Now there’s even more reason to watch your waistline. A man’s weight seems to influence gene activity in his sperm, which might be passed on to any children he has.
12-2-15 Stone Age Picasso made oldest known drawing of human settlement
Stone Age Picasso made oldest known drawing of human settlement
An etching on a slab of stone in Spain seems to shows a group of seven huts, forming a campsite or village that would have been inhabited 13,800 years ago">Stone Age Picasso made oldest known drawing of human settlement. Carved roughly 13,800 years ago, the image appears to depict an everyday scene from a campsite, predating the oldest known images of human dwellings by 5000 to 6000 years. Cave art from older periods, going back at least 40,000 years, represents animals or people hunting, rather than dwellings. “This shows for the first time the ability of prehistoric hunter-gatherers to represent society,” says Marcos García-Diez at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. “It’s the earliest ever representation of huts forming a campsite, a palaeolithic village.”
12-2-15 Did our ancient ancestors 'kill the cat'?
Did our ancient ancestors 'kill the cat'?
Our ancient human cousins may have fought off big cats with spears, according to archaeological evidence. The sabre-toothed cat - once known as the sabre-toothed tiger - lived from about 55.8 million to 11,700 years ago. The predator had enormous teeth, which it used to rip through flesh. "We can say that the humans - and the sabre-toothed cat - were living 300,000 years ago in the same area, in the same landscape." Homo Heidelbergensis was among the first type of early human to use wooden spears. Scatterings of animal bones found in their camps suggest they used the spears to hunt animals like the horse and deer. The cat's humerus bone - worked by humans into a rudimentary hammer- is the first example of its kind anywhere in the world, he added.
12-2-15 How gene editing is helping fight disease
How gene editing is helping fight disease
Gene editing - the ability to manipulate our DNA - is set to transform the way we battle disease. It offers the hope that inherited genetic conditions could be treated, and perhaps even cured. Scientists from all over the world have gathered in Washington to discuss the potential of the technique.
12-1-15 Safer way to do gene editing
Safer way to do gene editing
Scientists say they have fine tuned a gene editing method to make it safer and more accurate - vital if it is to be used in humans to cure inherited diseases or inborn errors. The advance, outlined in Science Magazine, comes as world leaders in the field gather to debate the ethics of altering human DNA using the method, known as Crispr-Cas9. Gene editing holds medical promise. But changing a person's DNA also has potential risks and ethical quandaries. The first International Summit on Human Gene Editing will debate how far the science should progress.
12-1-15 Having trouble giving up smoking? Blame your genes
Having trouble giving up smoking? Blame your genes
A third of white people have gene variations that make it harder for them to quit cigarettes, and may predispose them to other addictive behaviours. Some people may have a get-out clause when it comes to giving up cigarettes. A third of white people who smoke have gene variations that make it harder for them to kick the habit. A gene called ANKK1 regulates the release of dopamine – a chemical involved in the brain’s reward centres. Ming Li and colleagues at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, wondered whether variations of this gene might affect people’s ability to give up cigarettes. So his team analysed 23 studies that have linked ANKK1 to smoking, involving more than 11,000 participants in total. Across the board, there was no significant link between successful quitting and the gene variants. But when they looked at just the studies that analysed white people, the results were striking. About two-thirds of white smokers carried a variation of the gene called A2/A2. These people were about 22 per cent more likely to be able to quit smoking than those who carried an alternative version of the gene, either A1/A1 or A1/A2. The A1/A1 and A1/A2 gene variations have previously been linked to obesity and drug addiction, which suggests they may predispose people to addictive behaviours.
11-30-15 Scans prove there's no such thing as a 'male' or 'female' brain
Scans prove there's no such thing as a 'male' or 'female' brain
Most people have a mix of male and female features in their brain, suggesting a person's cognitive skills can't be predicted by gender alone. You may have read that having a male brain will earn you more money. Or maybe that female brains are better at multitasking. But there is no such thing as a female or male brain, according to the first search for sex differences across the entire human brain. It reveals that most people have a mix of male and female brain features. And it also supports the idea that gender is non-binary, and that gender classifications in many situations are meaningless. “This evidence that human brains cannot be categorised into two distinct classes is new, convincing, and somehow radical,” says Anelis Kaiser at the University of Bern, Switzerland.
11-28-15 Tarantulas evolved blue colour 'at least eight times'
Tarantulas evolved blue colour 'at least eight times'
Tarantulas have evolved almost exactly the same shade of vibrant blue at least eight separate times. That is the conclusion of a study by US biologists, exploring how the colour is created in different tarantula species. The hue is caused by tiny structures inside the animals' hairs, but those shapes vary across the family tree. This suggests, the researchers say, that the striking blue is not driven by sexual selection - unlike many other bright colours in the animal kingdom. This argument is also supported by the fact that tarantulas have poor colour vision, and do not appear to show off their hairy blue body parts during courtship.
11-27-15 Man’s mysterious ancient cousin
Man’s mysterious ancient cousin
Five years after identifying a previously unknown, long-extinct human species called the Denisovans, scientists have used genetic analysis to shed new light on our mysterious relatives. The Denisovans are named after the cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains where their remains were found. A lack of intact bones has prevented scientists from reconstructing how the species looked or lived, but DNA analysis on a 110,000-year-old Denisovan molar has established that they were close cousins of Neanderthals, and distant ones of early Homo sapiens. They likely lived alongside and interbred with both of those species—and possibly another unidentified relative of modern humans—for about 60,000 years. The analysis also suggests that Denisovans were more widespread and genetically more diverse than Neanderthals, who became inbred after ice age glaciers trapped them in southern Europe. That theory is supported by the fact that Australian aborigines, New Guineans, and Polynesians all have elements of Denisovan DNA. “The world at that time must have been far more complex than previously thought,” the study’s author, Susanna Sawyer, tells National Geographic. “Who knows what other hominids lived and what effects they had on us?”
11-26-15 Sword and dagger arachnid fights may explain weapon evolution
Sword and dagger arachnid fights may explain weapon evolution
Three weapons have been found in one harvestman species. Gladiator-like cage fights could help explain why animals have evolved different types of weaponry. Choose your weapon… now fight! Harvestmen are the first animals found to have different types of weapon in a single species. Setting up fights between them could help explain why the weird and wonderful world of animal weaponry got so diverse. In the animal world – especially among arthropods like insects and arachnids – evolution has produced a wide array of weaponry, including giant horns and long snouts. But why evolution should produce this diversity, seen even within same groups of insects, is puzzling. “One thing that people have been fascinated with is why there are so many different types of weapons in closely related species,” says Christina Painting from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “We don’t know what the benefits are to evolving different weapons at all.”
11-25-15 Gene drive method could rapidly halt malaria transmission
Gene drive method could rapidly halt malaria transmission
A technique that subverts the rules of genetic inheritance could stop mosquitoes from carrying malaria, but may not be tried in wild for 15 years. IT’S one in the eye for both Mendel and malaria. Researchers have given malaria-resistant mosquitoes a gene that subverts Gregor Mendel’s rules of classical genetic inheritance. Like humans, mosquitoes usually only pass one copy of each gene on to each of their offspring. But Anthony James at the University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues have used the CRISPR gene editing technique to create a “gene drive”. This makes offspring carry two copies of a gene variant from one parent. It works by allowing an engineered gene – in this case, one that confers resistance to malaria – to insert a copy of itself into the corresponding chromosome inherited from the other parent. This can make a specific version of a gene spread through a population much faster. The team found that 99.5 per cent of offspring inherited the resistance gene when engineered mosquitoes bred with normal ones. This is double the best possible result by normal genetic inheritance. If such engineered mosquitoes were released into the wild, the resistance gene could stop malaria transmission.
11-25-15 Army ants 'mind the gap' efficiently
Army ants 'mind the gap' efficiently
Ants are well-known for building with their bodies, but a new study has shown that army ants can optimise traffic flow using bridges that move. Army ants are a predatory nomadic species: they raid other insect colonies and are always on the move, without a permanent nest. In this lifestyle, finding the shortest foraging path - with sufficient workforce left over - is crucial. The new research shows they adjust their bridges to find that balance.
11-24-15 The strange beasts that live in solid rock deep underground
The strange beasts that live in solid rock deep underground
Drill down a mile or two into Earth's crust and you will find solid rock, unbearable heat and little oxygen. Yet it turns out there is also thriving animal life. Just how far down in the Earth's crust can animals survive? In the dark, hot depths of several South African gold mines, there live some tiny worms that may hold the key to answering that question. These creatures are the deepest living animals that have ever been discovered. No one knows how they got down there, but they could have been living in the mines for thousands of years. Their very existence suggests that complex life can survive far deeper in the Earth than was ever thought possible. (Webmaster's comment: And simple celled creatures live much, much deeper down. Life is virtually everywhere except in molten lava. Evolution is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.)
11-24-15 Mutant mosquitoes 'resist malaria'
Mutant mosquitoes 'resist malaria'
US scientists say they have bred a genetically modified (GM) mosquito that can resist malaria infection. If the lab technique works in the field, it could offer a new way of stopping the biting insects from spreading malaria to humans, they say. The scientists put a new "resistance" gene into the mosquito's own DNA, using a gene editing method called Crispr. And when the GM mosquitoes mated - their offspring inherited the same resistance.
11-24-15 Australia trial for GM fruit fly
Australia trial for GM fruit fly
Australia will carry out trials of a genetically modified insect to see if it can control a destructive crop pest. The engineered Mediterranean fruit flies possess a gene that prevents female flies from reaching adulthood. When released into the environment, they mate with wild members of the same species and pass on the gene to their offspring, which die before they can cause damage to crops.
11-23-15 Genetic history of Europeans revealed
Genetic history of Europeans revealed
A study of ancient DNA has shed new light on European genetic history. It confirms that farming spread across Europe due to the influx of ancient people from what is now eastern Turkey. Many modern Europeans owe their taller stature to these early farmers - and a later influx of Bronze Age "horsemen" - say international researchers. In the study, researchers mapped the genes of 273 ancient people who lived in West Europe and Asia from about 8,500 to 2,500 years ago. Of these, 26 were part of a population that gave rise to Europe's first farmers.
11-20-15 Mollusc sees the world through hundreds of eyes made out of rock
Mollusc sees the world through hundreds of eyes made out of rock
Its mineral eyes work just like ours and help the creature see predators – but how its small brains process its rock-hard vision is still a mystery. Like a knight peering over the battlements of a castle, it can see the world without venturing out of its fortress – using hundreds of tiny rock-hard eyes embedded in its shell. Each eye lens is about a tenth of a millimetre across – the thickness of a piece of paper – and, uniquely, made of aragonite minerals, not proteins. In 2011, researchers discovered that the eyes work just like ours. The mineral lenses focus light on the animal’s retina, which is covered in photoreceptors. (Webmaster's comment: Makes the Creationists ranting and babbling about eyes being too complex for nature to create look pretty silly doesn't it.)
11-19-15 Antibiotic resistance: World on cusp of 'post-antibiotic era'
Antibiotic resistance: World on cusp of 'post-antibiotic era'
The world is on the cusp of a "post-antibiotic era", scientists have warned after finding bacteria resistant to drugs used when all other treatments have failed. They identified bacteria able to shrug off the drug of last resort - colistin - in patients and livestock in China. They said that resistance would spread around the world and raised the spectre of untreatable infections. It is likely resistance emerged after colistin was overused in farm animals. Bacteria becoming completely resistant to treatment - also known as the antibiotic apocalypse - could plunge medicine back into the dark ages.
11-19-15 Bacteria now resistant even to ‘last resort’ antibiotics
Bacteria now resistant even to ‘last resort’ antibiotics
There was one last class of antibiotics to which bacteria had not developed genetic resistance that could spread between them – until now. Resistance genes identified in China suggests we could soon see bacteria that are resistant to every known type of antibiotic, and these genes have already been found in bacteria infecting people. Until now, a type of bacteria known as Gram negative have remained susceptible to one particular class of antibiotics, called polymyxins. These have become known as “last resort” antibiotics, increasingly used to treat infections that resist every other kind. In 2012, the World Health Organisation classified colistin, the most widely used polymyxin, as being critically important for human health. But that didn’t stop farmers around the world, especially in China, from using large quantities of colistin to fatten up pigs and chickens. Now Yi-Yun Liu at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou and colleagues have discovered the first known resistance gene for colistin that is able to move freely from one bacterium to another.
11-19-15 African finch sings and performs superfast Happy Feet tap dance
African finch sings and performs superfast Happy Feet tap dance
A strange buzzing sound made during the singing mating ritual of an African finch is in fact a tap dance so fast it is invisible to the human eye. An African finch has a penchant for tap dancing so fast that humans can only see it with the help of a high-speed camera. Blue-capped cordon-bleus (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus) tap dance when they are courting, as part of a complex song and dance duet. As they bob up, they tap their feet a few times at a speed of between 25 and 50 times a second, producing a buzzing sound.
11-18-15 Ants use their flattened heads as doors to lock down their nests
Ants use their flattened heads as doors to lock down their nests
Some ants defend their nests simply by wedging their specially evolved heads in the entrances, where they act as an impenetrable door. Little is known about them, but they look much like the better-studied door head ants of genus Cephalotes from the Americas. Shaped like shields, their heads are a perfect fit for the tunnels created by wood-boring beetles in trees.
11-16-15 Animal magnetic sense comes from protein that acts as a compass
Animal magnetic sense comes from protein that acts as a compass
Many animals sense Earth's magnetic field and use it to navigate. How they do it has been a matter of speculation – but we may now have the answer. Quick – can you tell where north is? Animals as diverse as sea turtles, birds, worms, butterflies and wolves can, thanks to sensing Earth’s magnetic field. But the magnet-sensing structures inside their cells that allow them to do this have evaded scientists – until now. A team led by Can Xie’s at Peking University in China has now found a protein in fruit flies, butterflies and pigeons that they believe to be responsible for this magnetic sense.
11-16-15 Ruff bird orgies have four ‘sexes’ thanks to a supergene flip
Ruff bird orgies have four ‘sexes’ thanks to a supergene flip
Male ruff sandpipers come in three types, each with its own bizarre mating strategy, thanks to a supergene created 3.8 million years ago. The ruff has one of the weirdest sexual systems in the world – all thanks to a large piece of chromosome that was flipped over 3.8 million years ago. A type of wading sandpiper, ruffs are named after the large showy feathers sported by males around their necks during breeding season. But in 2006, researchers noticed something odd: a rare type of male that looks exactly like a female, only slightly larger. Unlike territorial males, with their coloured ruffs, head tufts and big showy displays to impress females, these female mimics pursue a different mating strategy. In the frenzy of ruff mating, which can involve many aggressive and displaying males, copulation is a speedy process. When a female has picked a male, she presents her genital opening, or cloaca, to him, but can instead be fertilised by a female mimic, which rushes in first.
11-16-15 What did the Neanderthals do for us?
What did the Neanderthals do for us?
Thanks to a spot of prehistoric hanky-panky, many of us carry Neanderthal genes. What is this rogue DNA doing? I am 2.5% Neanderthal. That's according to a genetic analysis of snippets of my DNA. It is slightly less than the European average of 2.7%. I owe my part-Neanderthal nature to an accident of history. Thousands of years ago, modern humans ran into Neanderthals somewhere in Asia or Europe. We don't know exactly what happened, but one way or another my ancestors had sex with members of another species. Quite possibly yours did too. We can see traces of these prehistoric trysts in the DNA of everyone outside of Africa – and to a lesser extent, some people in Africa as well. We now have a rough idea of which of our genes came from the Neanderthals. That offers some surprising clues as to what the Neanderthal DNA is doing for us – and it's not all good.
11-16-15 Europe's fourth ancestral 'tribe' uncovered
Europe's fourth ancestral 'tribe' uncovered
Geneticists have detected a fourth ancestral "tribe" which contributed to the modern European gene pool. Research shows Europeans are a mixture of three major ancestral populations - indigenous hunters, Middle Eastern farmers and a population that arrived from the east during the Bronze Age. DNA from ancient remains in the Caucasus has now revealed a fourth population that fed into the mix.
11-12-15 Lost genetic history of Inca child mummy
Lost genetic history of Inca child mummy
Scientists have unravelled part of the genetic code of a child who was sacrificed in a ritual ceremony by the Inca civilisation 500 years ago. The boy's mummified remains were discovered on an Argentinean mountain. Analysis of his mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, showed that the boy's closest living relatives are in Peru and Bolivia. He belonged to a population of native South Americans that almost disappeared after the Spanish conquest.
11-12-15 Most of Earth's mass extinctions caused by… mineral deficiencies
Most of Earth's mass extinctions caused by… mineral deficiencies
Three of Earth's worst ever extinction events have no agreed cause – one unexplored possibility could be a fall in the abundance of minerals essential to life. Could a lack of essential trace elements in the world’s oceans be the cause of most of Earth’s mass extinctions? A new theory suggests that marine animals, from plankton to reptiles, succumbed to such fatal deficiencies. Earth has been hit with five mass extinctions, three of which we can’t explain. Earlier this year, researchers discovered that periods when the ocean had high levels of trace elements – like zinc, copper, manganese and selenium – seemed to overlap with periods of high productivity, including the Cambrian explosion, when most groups of living animals first appeared. Now new research shows that drops in selenium correlate well with each of the extinction events at the end of the Ordovician, Devonian and Triassic periods.
11-11-15 Prehistoric farmers were first beekeepers
Prehistoric farmers were first beekeepers
Humans have been exploiting honeybees for almost 9,000 years, according to archaeological evidence. Traces of beeswax found on ancient pottery from Europe, the Near East and North Africa suggest the first farmers kept bees. The research, published in Nature, shows our links with the honeybee date back to the dawn of agriculture. Prehistoric people may have domesticated wild bees or gathered honey and wax for medicines and food.
11-11-15 Gene editing beat a baby’s leukaemia. Are other cancers next?
Gene editing beat a baby’s leukaemia. Are other cancers next?
A 1-year-old girl was saved from leukaemia by an experimental gene therapy. Tweaking donor immune cells to kill cells could also work in other disorders. Last week, it was announced that a 1-year-old girl called Layla has been saved from leukaemia by an experimental gene therapy. It was used as a last resort after all other treatments had failed. It’s too early to know whether Layla is free of cancer, or if the technique that saved her will work for others. But it is clear that gene editing is set to make an existing method of tackling cancer – genetically engineering immune cells to kill cancer cells – even more powerful and widely available. “There are lots of genetic tricks we can exploit to make the cells more specific and more potent,” says Adrian Thrasher, who heads the gene therapy programme at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where Layla was treated.
11-9-15 ‘Death clock’ in cells could tell you when you’ll get cancer
‘Death clock’ in cells could tell you when you’ll get cancer
How fast we age and whether we get cancer may be predetermined by two "clocks" found in almost every cell in the human body. Tick-tock, tick-tock. How fast we age and whether we get cancer may be predetermined by two “clocks” discovered in almost every cell in the human body. Each tick of these clocks is a DNA mutation, and these build up at a constant rate throughout your life. The discovery will give us a deeper understanding of the causes of cancer, and an insight into healthy ageing. But here’s the twist: if you could slow the rate at which these clocks tick, it might be possible to alter the rate of cancer – and even the rate at which we age.
11-6-15 Dawn of gene-editing medicine?
Dawn of gene-editing medicine?
Does the smiling face of Layla Richards mark a new era in genetic medicine that could change all our lives? Her story is simply remarkable and a world first. On the day before her first birthday, Layla's parents were told that all treatments for her leukaemia had failed and she was going to die. The determination of her family, doctors and a biotechnology company led to her being given an experimental therapy that had previously been tried only in mice. Now, just months after her family was told her cancer was incurable, Layla is not only alive, but a happy, giggling child with no trace of leukaemia in her body. The "miracle" treatment was a tiny vial filled with genetically engineered immune cells that were designed to kill her cancer.
11-5-15 Gene editing saves girl dying from leukaemia in world first
Gene editing saves girl dying from leukaemia in world first
A one-year-old girl is in remission after receiving an experimental therapy that used genetically engineered T-cells from a donor to kill her cancer. For the first time ever, a person’s life has been saved by gene editing. One-year-old Layla was dying from leukaemia after all conventional treatments failed. “We didn’t want to give up on our daughter, though, so we asked the doctors to try anything,” her mother Lisa said in a statement released by Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where Layla (pictured above) was treated. And they did. Layla’s doctors got permission to use an experimental form of gene therapy using genetically engineered immune cells from a donor. Within a month these cells had killed off all the cancerous cells in her bone marrow. It is too soon to say she is cured, the team stressed at a press conference in London on 5 November. That will only become clear after a year or two. So far, though, she is doing well and there is no sign of the cancer returning. Other patients are already receiving the same treatment.
11-4-15 Sharp-eared T. rex may have stalked the night like today's owls
Sharp-eared T. rex may have stalked the night like today's owls
A mysterious ridge on tyrannosaur skulls could have helped focus their hearing forwards, allowing them to hunt at night. The eyes of T. rex face forward, giving them stereoscopic vision for seeking prey. Robert Bakker at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas has found evidence that their ears might also have been focused forward, like those of some modern-day owls. For many years, Bakker puzzled over a shelf-like ridge at the back of T. rex skulls. Unlike ridges that functioned as muscle-attachment sites, this feature is smooth, implying that it had another purpose, he says. Finally, he realised that the ridge runs from the eardrum, positioned towards the back of the skull, to the front of the dinosaur’s cheek. “The most likely explanation is that there was an ear tube – an ear trumpet, if you will – that was concentrating hearing from the front,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Dinosaurs were around for 160 million years and lived in a complete ecosystem. In that time they evolved and encoded in their DNA all the obvious advantages to help them survive.)
11-4-15 Leading theory of consciousness rocked by oddball study
Leading theory of consciousness rocked by oddball study
Scientists show that widespread activity occurs in the brain even during unconscious processing – which shouldn't happen if our theories of consciousness are correct. Doubts are emerging about one of our leading models of consciousness. It seems that brain signals thought to reflect consciousness are also generated during unconscious activity. A decade of studies have lent credence to the global neuronal workspace theory of consciousness, which states that when something is perceived unconsciously, or subliminally, that information is processed locally in the brain. In contrast, conscious perception occurs when the information is broadcast to a “global workspace”, or assemblies of neurons distributed across various brain regions, leading to activity over the entire network.
11-2-15 Rice was domesticated three times across Asia, not once in China
Rice was domesticated three times across Asia, not once in China
Sticky rice hails from southern China, but basmati is a hybrid of rice domesticated in the Himalayas and near Bangladesh. So good, they tamed it thrice? New evidence suggests that sticky rice hails from southern China, but that other modern types like basmati can trace their history back to two other domestication events, one in the shadow of the Himalayas and the other in the Indian subcontinent. The claim challenges the favoured theory of Asian rice’s origins – that it was domesticated in China’s Yangtze Valley. It was thought that this gave rise to all the modern varieties of Oryza sativa we eat today.
10-30-15 The animal that doesn't get cancer
The animal that doesn't get cancer
Many animals get cancer just like humans do, but there are a few mysterious species that rarely develop it. Cancer is rife in the animal kingdom. For many, the mortality rate is similar to that suffered by humans. However there are exceptions. A few animals don't seem to get cancer very often, or at all. Understanding why could help us treat it, or even prevent it.
10-29-15 Fossil discovery could be the last common ancestor to all apes
Fossil discovery could be the last common ancestor to all apes
A peculiar Spanish fossil from 11.6 million years ago suggests that the ancestor of all apes might have been more like gibbons and less like great apes. This ancestor would have lived around 14 million years ago, when lesser apes, the gibbons, split from the great ape lineage. An earlier hominoid, Proconsul, lived in East Africa about 23 million years ago and had a body mass of up to 50 kilograms – about the same as a chimpanzee, and not much smaller than a human.Proconsul is thought to be typical of early hominoids, so the consensus was that today’s great apes would have evolved from creatures that were about the same size. That would also mean that gibbons, the only living small-bodied hominoids, must have evolved from a large-bodied ancestor. But in 2011, palaeontologists in Spain dug up the partial skeleton of an 11.6-million-year-old ape that would have had a body mass of about 5 kilograms – roughly the same as a modern gibbon.
10-29-15 Frodo’s basement: Secret chamber found where hobbit humans lived
Frodo’s basement: Secret chamber found where hobbit humans lived
A new cave has been found at the site where Homo floresiensis hobbits were discovered. It could hold more bones and shed light on the hobbits' origins. H. floresiensis became a worldwide sensation when it was unveiled a decade ago. The fragile remains in a cave on Flores island in Indonesia told the remarkable story of a tiny species of early human, standing about 1 metre tall. What’s more, it lived as recently as 18,000 years ago – long after other early human species, including the Neanderthals, had disappeared.
10-23-15 Big monkey voice 'means less sperm'
Big monkey voice 'means less sperm'
The deep, growling roar of the howler monkey may hide reproductive shortcomings, according to biologists. A study by an international team of scientists has revealed that the primates either develop big voices, or big testes - but not both. Scientists made the discovery while trying to understand the "evolution of the animals' incredible roars". The findings suggest such evolutionary trade-offs may be more common that previously thought.
10-22-15 Howler monkeys have to choose between big balls and big bawls
Howler monkeys have to choose between big balls and big bawls
In species with the largest vocal organs, males have the smallest testicles, suggesting an evolutionary trade-off between winning mates and making sperm. When it comes to sex, you can’t have it all. Male howler monkeys are famed for their deep, powerful roars, which are among the loudest noises made by terrestrial animals, and may help them compete with other males. But, alas, species with the most developed vocal organs also tend to have smaller testicles. (Webmaster's comment: I'd swear that the the same is true for human males! A big mouth gets to mate more, but with poor results.)
10-22-15 Self-sacrificing immune cells spew out DNA nets to trap invaders
Self-sacrificing immune cells spew out DNA nets to trap invaders
When all else fails, neutrophil cells can fight infections by releasing nets of their own genetic material, studded with antimicrobial compounds. As well as carrying genetic instructions, it turns out DNA makes a handy weapon too. As a last-ditch defence against invading microbes, immune cells spew out sticky nets of their DNA. “DNA is so physically packed that when you uncoil it you get a huge net,” says Donald Sheppard of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “It’s like one of those cans of exploding snakes, only a thousand times more dramatic.” Normally, immune cells called neutrophils kill microbes by gobbling them up or releasing toxic chemicals. But when all else fails, they disgorge complex nets of their DNA, studded with antimicrobial compounds. The nets can span small blood vessels, ensnaring and killing bacteria. “When bacteria are flowing through the blood, there’s no chance that a neutrophil could catch them,” says Paul Kubes of the University of Calgary in Canada. “But these nets can entangle them.”
10-22-15 Bees found farming fungus for first time to feed larvae
Bees found farming fungus for first time to feed larvae
If you thought bees only cared about flowers, think again. Some of them also farm fungus to survive – meaning that fungicides could harm them. Flowers are not enough, it seems. For the first time, bees have been discovered farming fungus to provide extra food for their larvae. Though farming is well known in many social insects, such as ants and termites, bees have always been thought to depend solely on pollen and nectar for sustenance. But for the Brazilian stingless bee, Scaptotrigona depilis, fungus may mean the difference between life and death. What’s more, if other bees also depend on fungus for survival, the discovery has serious implications for the use of fungicides in agriculture.
10-22-15 Dead arms test importance of clenched fists
Dead arms test importance of clenched fists
In macabre experiments which saw dead, severed arms swing punches on a large pendulum, US scientists have measured the extent to which a clenched fist shields fragile bones in the hand. Consequently, a fist can strike with twice the force of an open-handed slap. Prof David Carrier from the University of Utah said this supports his argument that fighting, as well as dexterity, drove the evolution of the human hand. Writing in the Journal of Experimental Biology, he suggests that our hands, with short fingers and meaty thumbs compared to other primates, evolved to satisfy two needs: "These are the proportions that improved manual dexterity while at the same time making it possible for the hand to be used as a club during fighting."
10-22-15 Crocodiles sleep with one eye watching
Crocodiles sleep with one eye watching
Crocodiles can sleep with one eye open, according to a study from Australia. In doing so they join a list of animals with this ability, which includes some birds, dolphins and other reptiles. Writing in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the researchers say the crocs are probably sleeping with one brain hemisphere at a time, leaving one half of the brain active and on the lookout.
10-20-15 First domestication of dogs took place in Asia, not Europe
First domestication of dogs took place in Asia, not Europe
The largest ever genetic study points to dogs being domesticated in the vicinity of Nepal and Mongolia around 15,000 years ago. Dogs became man’s best friends somewhere in central Asia close to Nepal and Mongolia, according to the largest genetic study yet. The work looked at DNA from thousands of living dogs to piece together their ancestry and geographical origins. “This is the first global study of genomic patterns of dog diversity,” says Adam Boyko of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who led the team. “We find a clear pattern of genetic diversity focused on central Asia, suggesting the first domesticated dogs came from this region.” That departs from earlier studies that pinpointed Europe as where dogs were domesticated, although more recent work puts the location in southern China, just 1000 kilometres from the area Boyko’s team proposes. The team broke new ground by analysing DNA samples from so-called “village dogs”, which have lived alongside humans throughout the world since dogs first evolved from wolves and were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. “Although they associate with humans, village dogs are more or less expected to make it on their own,” says Boyko. “They are very different from pure-bred dogs genetically because they are free-breeding, so in a genetic sense, they are a natural population.” Village dogs therefore carry a more authentic genetic signature of original dog populations than the modern-day breeds created in the past 200 years, mainly in Europe. Boyko’s team took DNA samples from 549 village dogs in 38 countries all over the globe. They also took samples from 4676 pure-bred “modern” dogs of 161 breeds, many of European origin. By analysing 185,805 genetic markers, Boyko’s team traced how all the animals were related, and from that how they had spread around the world. This essentially gave them a trail back to “founder” dogs in Nepal and Mongolia.
10-20-15 Dogs 'can trace origins to Central Asia'
Dogs 'can trace origins to Central Asia'
Today's dogs can trace their origins to Central Asia, according to one of the most comprehensive genetic surveys yet. Dogs are the most diverse animal on the planet - a legacy of thousands of years of selective breeding by humans. But they derive from wild wolves that were gradually tamed and inducted into human hunting groups - perhaps near Mongolia or Nepal. The findings come from an analysis of DNA from thousands of pooches, and are published in PNAS journal. Cornell University's Dr Adam Boyko and his colleagues studied 4,676 purebred dogs from recognised breeds, as well as 549 "village dogs" - free-ranging animals that live around human settlements.
10-20-15 Snake's belly slides on fatty film
Snake's belly slides on fatty film
Scientists have discovered a layer of very well-organised fatty molecules on the belly scales of snakes, which could be the key to life on the slither. Snake scales are slipperier on the belly than the back, but the reason for this difference is not yet known. By revealing the molecular make-up of the scale surface, this study offers a new explanation for how snakes reduce friction on their underside. Lead author Joe Baio, a chemical engineer from Oregon State University, said the lubrication helps the snakes in two ways: it makes movement easier, but also reduces wear and tear.
10-19-15 Life may have begun 300 million years earlier than we thought
Life may have begun 300 million years earlier than we thought
Flecks of carbon of potentially organic origin seen in zircon crystals, hinting that life started 4.1 billion years ago in Earth's fiery Hadean period. Did life have hellish origins? Carbon with an organic-like signature has been discovered sealed within a crystal that formed during an interval of Earth’s history named after Hades, the underworld of Greek mythology. The find predates other evidence of life by 300 million years. Our planet formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s anyone’s guess exactly when life first appeared. The oldest reliable fossils are about 3.43 billion years old. Chemical signatures in even older rocks suggest life might have been present 3.8 billion years ago. All of these early fossil signatures belong to the Archaean, which began 4 billion years ago. It is generally thought that conditions on Earth before then were so extreme that life wouldn’t have stood a chance of survival – which is why the pre-Archaean stage of Earth’s history has been dubbed the Hadean. They analysed more than 10,000 zircon crystals smaller than a millimetre in length that date from the Archaean and Hadean. In one Hadean crystal they found tiny flecks, or inclusions, of graphite, which must have been incorporated into the zircon crystal when it formed some 4.1 billion years ago. The researchers analysed the carbon isotopes in two of the graphite flecks, and found both were enriched in isotopically light carbon-12 – a characteristic feature of carbon with organic origins.
10-19-15 Babies better than adults at knowing where they’re being touched
Babies better than adults at knowing where they’re being touched
Cross an adult's limbs and they have trouble saying which is is being touched. But young babies don't let body orientation confuse them. Mr Tickle can’t bamboozle a baby. Unlike grown-ups, young infants don’t let the positioning of their bodies confuse their sense of touch. If adults who can see are touched on each hand in quick succession while their hands are crossed, they can find it hard to name which hand was touched first. Adults who have been blind from birth don’t have this difficulty, but people who become blind later in life have the same trouble as those who can still see. “That suggests that early on in life, something to do with visual experience is crucial in setting up a typical way of perceiving touch,” says Andrew Bremner at Goldsmiths, University of London. To investigate how this develops in infancy, Bremner and his colleagues compared how babies reacted to having one foot tickled. With their legs crossed over, babies aged 6 months moved the foot being tickled half of the time. But 4-month-olds did better, moving the tickled foot 70 per cent of the time – as often as they did with their legs uncrossed.
10-16-15 Ants con others into being their slaves by mimicking their scent
Ants con others into being their slaves by mimicking their scent
For most slave-making ants the pillage is a messy affair involving fights. But one ant species has figured out how to con others into becoming their slaves. The intruders’ secret? Chemical mimicry. After comparing the chemical profile of each species Kleeberg found similarities between both. They share 35 out of the 36 hydrocarbons found on their cuticles, for example. During the raid, the raiding ants also regularly groomed slaves-to-be or rubbed their body against them to acquire their scent, presumably helping them to avoid recognition, Kleeberg says. “The slave-maker enters host colonies, trying to be nice and kind, pretending to be one of them, hiding beneath a costume to get accepted,” says Kleeberg. “The use of this subterfuge in slave-making raids is new,” say McGlynn. (Webmaster's comment: The ants "figured" nothing out. This is evolution at work. The slaver ants evolved the ability to fool the slave ants. They didn't "figure" anything out.)
10-16-15 Ancestors 'had less sleep' than we do
Ancestors 'had less sleep' than we do
Our ancestors may have got less sleep than we do, a study suggests. US researchers studied the sleeping patterns of traditional societies in Africa and South America, whose lifestyles closely resemble ancient hunter gatherers. They monitored 98 people for 1,165 nights, and found that they slept for an average of 6.5 hours per night. By comparison, the scientists said that most people in the US get about seven hours, according to a large sleep poll. The new study, published in the journal Current Biology, also finds that temperature played a greater role than light in shaping sleeping patterns.
10-15-15 Plants spike nectar with caffeine and give bees a buzz
Plants spike nectar with caffeine and give bees a buzz
Some plants include caffeine in their nectar, tricking bees into encouraging their nest-mates to visit the plant with enthusiastic dances. We knew from a previous study that caffeine boosts bee memory, helping them quickly learn the scent linked to the caffeinated food. For providing that jolt, the plant may be rewarded when eager bees keep returning and end up spreading more pollen. But according to her team’s latest research, the caffeine actually leads to behavioural changes that serve the plant’s needs while making the bee colony less productive. “What I think it does is make them exploited pollinators,” she says. “The plants are tricking them into foraging in ways that benefit the plant, not the bee.”
10-15-15 'Cute ancient furball' fossil unearthed
'Cute ancient furball' fossil unearthed
A 125 million-year-old fossil - described by scientists as an exceptionally cute furball - has been unearthed, scientists report. The ancient creature has been preserved in exquisite detail, providing the oldest-known record of hedgehog-like spines and mammalian internal organs.
10-14-15 Human evolution was shaped by interbreeding
Human evolution was shaped by interbreeding
Our distant ancestors interbred with the Neanderthals and other hominin species. These hybridisation events may have been crucial to our evolution. Genetic analysis indicates that Europeans and Asians obtained 1-4% of their DNA from Neanderthals. Neanderthals interbred with another species, the Denisovans, as did some of us. Some people from South East Asia have up to 6% Denisovan DNA. Even Africans whose ancestors never left the continent carry some Neanderthal DNA, because 3000 years ago people from Europe and Asia migrated to Africa. Many modern Africans have inherited some genes, including some Neanderthal ones, from these people. Now some scientists are going even further. They propose that our entire species is the product of hybridisation between species, and that we owe much of our success to this very fact. (Webmaster's comment: Even today 4-6% of the human species will have sex with just about any creature that will stand still for it. That Homo sapiens, us, bred with other Homo sapien like creatures in the past, and that they bred with us, goes without saying.)
10-14-15 Fossil teeth place humans in Asia '20,000 years early'
Fossil teeth place humans in Asia '20,000 years early'
Fossil finds from China have shaken up the traditional narrative of humankind's dispersal from Africa. Scientists working in Daoxian, south China, have discovered teeth belonging to modern humans that date to at least 80,000 years ago. The 47 human teeth were found sealed in a cave, beneath 80,000-year-old stalagmites. This is 20,000 years earlier than the widely accepted "Out of Africa" migration that led to the successful peopling of the globe by our species.
10-14-15 First humans to leave Africa went to China, not Europe
First humans to leave Africa went to China, not Europe
Teeth found in a Chinese cave back up the idea that Homo sapiens reached China thousands of years before it was assumed they left Africa. THE first humans to leave Africa decamped to far east Asia, not Europe. A trove of ancient teeth found in a cave in China adds evidence to the idea that humans reached the region thousands of years before they made it to Europe. The find suggests that modern humans reached China between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago. That challenges the widespread assumption that humans didn’t leave Africa until 60,000 years ago. Our species emerged some 200,000 years ago in Africa and didn’t make it to Europe until some 35,000 years ago. Martinón-Torres thinks that a combination of the competition from Neanderthals and the cold ice-age conditions may have kept them at bay. “Homo sapiens is a tropical species, so it was easier for them to move east than north,” she says. Martinón-Torres and her team found 47 teeth belonging to at least 13 H. sapiens individuals in the Fuyan cave in Daoxian, south-east China. The teeth were found under a layer of stalagmites that formed after the teeth were deposited there. “The stalagmites are at least 80,000 years old, so that’s the minimum age of the teeth,” says Martinón-Torres. Given that the animal bones found at the same site were typical of the Late Pleistocene, this puts the upper age limit at 120,000 years ago.
10-14-15 Elephants almost never get cancer thanks to multiple gene copies
Elephants almost never get cancer thanks to multiple gene copies
CANCER is no match for elephants – and now we might know why. Big animals like elephants live longer and their cells have to divide more. This means we would expect them to be more susceptible to cancer, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This is known as Peto’s paradox, and Joshua Schiffman at the University of Utah and his team have confirmed that it is real. Using data on captive elephants worldwide, they found that less than 5 per cent of elephants die of cancer, compared with 11 to 25 per cent of humans. The secret seems to be in their genes. By analysing elephant blood, the researchers found that African elephants have at least 20 versions of the p53 gene. This gene protects against cancer because it detects damage in a cell, and can stop it from dividing or cause it to self-destruct. Humans have only one version of it, inheriting one copy of it from each parent.
10-13-15 Some liked it hot: Dinosaurs evolved range of body temperatures
Some liked it hot: Dinosaurs evolved range of body temperatures
A new way to infer body temperature from eggshells suggests that small dinosaurs were cooler than large ones, and both were warmer than modern reptiles. Since dinosaurs were first named in the 19th century, palaeontologists have argued about whether they were cold-blooded like modern reptiles, or warm-blooded like mammals and birds. A novel technique suggests they might have had a foot in both camps. Robert Eagle of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues estimated the body temperature of two types of dinosaur by analysing fossil eggshells. They found that Titanosaurus, a long-necked sauropod around 10 metres long and 13 tonnes in weight, had a body temperature around 38 °C, similar to modern mammals. On the other hand, Oviraptor, a theropod about 2 metres long and 35 kilograms in weight, had a body temperature around 32 °C. This is still warmer than crocodiles and their relatives, suggesting that oviraptors generated some heat internally to keep their bodies above the ambient temperature and allow them to be more active. But it also suggests their physiology was not fully warm-blooded, which would require much more energy to maintain. The technique is based on measurements of the heavy isotopes carbon-13 and oxygen-18, which tend to bond together in a way that depends on temperature. If a mineral forms in a cold environment, these isotopes clump together more.
10-13-15 Brain's activity map makes stable 'fingerprint'
Brain's activity map makes stable 'fingerprint'
Neuroscientists have found that they can identify individuals based on a coarse map of which brain regions "pair up" in scans of brain activity. The map is stable enough that the researchers could pick one person's pattern from a set of 126, by matching it to a scan taken on another day. This was possible even if the person was "at rest" during one scan, and busy doing a task in the other. Furthermore, aspects of the map can predict certain cognitive abilities. Presented in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the findings demonstrate a surprising stability in this "functional fingerprint" of the brain.
10-12-15 World’s first trial of stem cell therapy in the womb
World’s first trial of stem cell therapy in the womb
Starting in January, 20-week-old fetuses with brittle bone disease will be given transplants of stem cells in the first clinical trial of its kind. Their bones are so brittle that they fracture while in the womb. Now a clinical trial of stem cell therapy in the womb aims to help babies born with brittle bone disease start life with stronger skeletons. “To our knowledge, this is the first clinical trial using stem cells in the womb,” says Cecilia Götherström of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and coordinator of the Europe-wide trial. “A few cases have been done before, including by us, but there has been no proper trial.” Brittle bone disease, or osteogenesis imperfecta, is caused by mutations in the gene for making collagen – a tough, flexible material that strengthens bone. Götherström and her colleagues will inject fetuses around 20 weeks old with stromal stem cells containing unmutated copies of the collagen gene. (Webmaster's comment: Not available in America where stem cell research is not allowed. God wants these infants to suffer!)
10-9-15 Birth month affects risk of developing dementia later in life
Birth month affects risk of developing dementia later in life
People in Germany born in winter have a 7 per cent lower dementia risk than those born in summer – which may be the result of variable factors like air quality.The month of your birth influences your risk of developing dementia. Although the effect is small compared to risk factors such as obesity, it may show how the first few months of life can affect cognitive health for decades to come. Demographers Gabriele Doblhammer and Thomas Fritze from the University of Rostock, Germany, studied data from the Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse – Germany’s largest public health insurer – for nearly 150,000 people aged 65 and over. After adjusting for age, they found that those born in the three months from December to February had a 7 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those born in June to August, with the risk for other months falling in between.
10-9-15 Placebo effect works in video games too
Placebo effect works in video games too
Gamers have more fun when they're told artificial intelligence is calling the shots – even when it's a lie. Even in virtual worlds, life is what you make of it. A study has found that gamers have more fun when they think a video game has been updated with fancy new features – even when that’s not true. Paul Cairns, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, UK, wondered if the placebo effect translates into the world of video games after watching a TV programme about how a sugar pill had improved cyclists’ performance. “People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology,” says Cairns. “It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way.”
10-9-15 Elephants' low cancer rates explained
Elephants' low cancer rates explained
Elephants have enhanced defences against cancer that can prevent tumours forming, say scientists. They were trying to explain why the animals have lower levels of cancer than would be expected by their size. The team at the University of Utah said "nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer" and plan to devise new treatments.
10-9-15 Genome of ancient Ethiopian tells of back-to-Africa migration
Genome of ancient Ethiopian tells of back-to-Africa migration
Comparing DNA extracted from an ancient Ethiopian skeleton with modern examples shows some of our ancestors migrated back to Africa from Eurasia 3000 years ago. It’s amazing what you find in old genes. DNA recovered from the skeleton of a man who lived in Ethiopia 4500 years ago has given archaeologists clues about humans’ migration back to Africa in antiquity. Evidence from modern genomes suggests that there was a substantial movement of people from west Eurasia back to Africa – the cradle of humanity – about 3000 years ago. But with no ancient African DNA to study, important information on the nature of the migration has been missing.
10-8-15 Elephants almost never get cancer thanks to multiple gene copies
Elephants almost never get cancer thanks to multiple gene copies
Duplications of the p53 gene makes elephant cells more likely to die in response to DNA damage, rather than turn cancerous. It’s an elephant–sized mystery. Big animals like elephants live longer and their cells have to divide more, so you would expect them to be more susceptible to cancer. But that doesn’t seem to be the case – a phenomenon that has become known as Peto’s paradox. Now there might be an explanation: elephants have extra copies of a gene that spots trouble in cells.
10-8-15 Ancient DNA reveals 'into Africa' migration
Ancient DNA reveals 'into Africa' migration
An ancient African genome has been sequenced for the first time. Researchers extracted DNA from a 4,500-year-old skull that was discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. A comparison with genetic material from today's Africans reveals how our ancient ancestors mixed and moved around the continents. The findings, published in the journal Science, suggests that about 3,000 years ago there was a huge wave of migration from Eurasia into Africa. This has left a genetic legacy, and the scientists believe up to 25% of the DNA of modern Africans can be traced back to this event. "Every single population for which we have data in Africa has a sizeable component of Eurasian ancestry," said Dr Andrea Manica, from the University of Cambridge, who carried out the research.
10-8-15 Zoologger: The robber ants living in a gang of their own
Zoologger: The robber ants living in a gang of their own
Some of the ants in Costa Rican nests devote their lives to stealing from neighbours, which suggests a distinct behavioural caste. We’ve known for about 20 years that some of the ants in two species – Ectatomma ruidum and Messor aciculatus – behave as robbers. What McGlynn and his colleagues have discovered is that E. ruidum thieves devote themselves to the job, forming a distinct behavioural caste. “Ballpark, about 5 per cent of a colony are thieves, at least in our site in Costa Rica,” he says. McGlynn and his team followed the activity of 47 individuals they identified as thieves to see how they behaved. They found that the thieving ants always displayed a distinctly sneaky behaviour, taking food morsels from one nest and bringing them back to their own.
10-8-15 Ancient horse-like foetus discovered in Germany
Ancient horse-like foetus discovered in Germany
A fossilised foetus belonging to an early relative of the horse has been described by scientists. The unborn foal was identified among the remains of its mother - a 48-million-year-old horse-like animal found in Germany's Messel pit in 2000. And this exceptional preservation allowed the researchers to reconstruct the original appearance and position of the foetus. This corresponded very well with foetuses in living mares, suggesting the horse reproductive system was already highly developed during the Eocene Period.
10-7-15 Migraines triggered by protein deep in the brain
Migraines triggered by protein deep in the brain
A peptide that over-excites neurons controlling facial feeling is to blame for migraines – so drugs that constrict blood vessels won't work. It can start with flashing lights, a tingling sensation and a feeling of unease, followed by excruciating pain. Migraines can be triggered by lack of food or too much stress but their underlying cause has remained a mystery. Now researchers have found that a migraine may be triggered by a protein deep in the brain that stimulates the neurons controlling facial sensations. The discovery creates a potential new target for safer migraine medicines and adds weight to the theory that neurons, not blood vessels, are responsible for migraine attacks.
10-7-15 Chemistry Nobel shared for discovery of how DNA repairs itself
Chemistry Nobel shared for discovery of how DNA repairs itself
Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar win the 2015 Nobel prize in chemistry for showing how DNA fixes damage that can cause cancer and premature ageing. Lindahl discovered how DNA gets repaired when a building block, or base, called uracil is loaded into the DNA double helix instead of the correct building block, cytosine. Lindahl found that this happens 200 times a day in every cell of the body, so millions of repairs are necessary daily. On receiving the news that he’d won the prize for the process, called base excision repair, Lindahl said: “I know I’ve been considered before, but it was still a surprise. I feel very lucky and proud to be selected.” Modrich, meanwhile, discovered how DNA gets repaired if it gets miscopied when cells replicate themselves by dividing to form two daughter cells. As a cell divides, each of the two original strands of DNA gets copied to form one of the strands for a daughter cell, but sometimes, the DNA isn’t copied correctly. Modrich discovered how cells repair this problem through a process called mismatch repair. Sancar discovered how DNA is damaged by sunlight and mutation-causing agents such as cigarette smoke, and how cells rectify the damage through a process called nucleotide excision repair.
10-6-15 Homo naledi: Hands, feet suggest 'jack of all trades'
Homo naledi: Hands, feet suggest 'jack of all trades'
The human ancestor Homo naledi was something of an all-rounder, able to move efficiently on the ground but also adept at climbing in trees. Its feet were clearly those of a walker while the hands had curved fingers to grasp and hold on to branches. But the hands also show a remarkable level of modernity that is only really evident in late Homo species, such as today's humans and our now extinct cousins, the Neanderthals. The architecture of our bones and muscles enables us to engage in very fine manipulation tasks. We can forcefully pinch our thumb and little finger together, for example - something that is much more difficult for relatively short-thumbed apes. This is part of why we are so good at making and using tools.
10-5-15 Newly discovered mammal species survived dinosaur extinction
Newly discovered mammal species survived dinosaur extinction
Scientists have discovered a species of ancient mammal that survived the event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The remains of this large, rodent-like creature give clues about how mammals "took over" when dinosaurs died out. Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, as the newly discovered species has been named, was a plant-eating creature that resembled a beaver.
10-2-15 The evolution of human uniqueness, in 1 awesome chart
The evolution of human uniqueness, in 1 awesome chart
Here's a timeline showing the development of our own humanity. How we humans developed the unique traits that separate us from our ancient ancestors is a scientific puzzle whose solution is ongoing. From fossils to food cultivation to social structure, the story of human evolution is written from many angles. This timeline shows some of the primary distinguishing characteristics of humans and when scientists believe they appeared on the scene.
10-2-15 Ape fossils put the origin of humanity at 10 million years ago
Ape fossils put the origin of humanity at 10 million years ago
New fossil evidence suggests human ancestors may have split from chimps as early as 10 million years ago, bringing fossil evidence in line with data from molecular clocks. A new analysis of an ape that lived 12.5 million years ago suggests it is a type of gorilla. If that’s true, it means gorillas evolved much earlier than thought, and also pushes back the time when humans split from chimps by about 2 million years. David Begun of the University of Toronto in Canada reanalysed fossils of Dryopithecus apes, which lived in what is now Europe as early as about 12.5 million years ago. He says that the characteristics of the skull suggest that rather than evolving earlier than the great apes, as was previously thought, Dryopithecus was actually a great ape itself. The angles at which bones in the skull connect, and the way the brain case is connected to the face all point to the conclusion that this was an early gorilla, Begun says. Orang-utans are the earliest of the apes to have split from the human lineage, thought to be followed by Dryopithecus, then gorillas, then chimps. But if Dryopithecus is in fact a gorilla, that puts the species closer to humans and chimps.
10-1-15 Slow cyclists gain advantage from schooling like fish
Slow cyclists gain advantage from schooling like fish
A group of cyclists in a peloton behave like a collective organism, giving an accidental benefit to even the slowest riders – much like schooling fish. Cyclists school like fish. The physics of how a group of individuals stays together may be the same whether they are athletes or animals. Pelotons are groups of cyclists that form during mass-start races like the Tour de France. Cyclists ride behind each other to take advantage of reduced drag, a strategy known as drafting. Emerging from the peloton allows riders to pass each other, but also exposes them to much greater drag and slows them down. It turns out that these physical principles guide behaviour in a peloton more than cyclists’ individual wills, says Hugh Trenchard, a former competitive cyclist and self-taught physicist. He has developed a model that describes the peloton and which biologists say may also apply to migrating birds and shoaling fish. (Webmaster's comment: The advantage of swarming is evolutionary. It works for bugs and fish and birds and mammals and humans. Nobody has to think about it. It's built in our genetics.)
10-1-15 Volcanoes plus asteroid might have finished off dinosaurs
Volcanoes plus asteroid might have finished off dinosaurs
Some 66 million years ago, the seismic energy from the Chicxulub impact may have set off dramatic lava flows from the Deccan traps, dooming the dinosaurs. With their world in grave danger, the dinosaurs couldn’t catch a break. The famous asteroid or comet that hastened their demise touched down in the middle of a period of climate change caused by burbling volcanoes. The resulting seismic shock may have then triggered even more eruptions, effectively meaning that a one-two punch killed them off. New evidence based on the most precise dating yet of lava from that time backs this idea.