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65 Evolution News Articles
For March 2016
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3-31-16 Nature’s brain: A radical new view of evolution
Nature’s brain: A radical new view of evolution
How does natural selection create so much complexity so fast? A bold new theory says it learns and remembers past solutions just as our brains do. We now know that intuition fails us, with feathers, eyes and all living things the product of an entirely natural process. But at the same time, current ways of thinking about evolution give a less-than-complete picture of how that works. Any process built purely on random changes has a lot of potential changes to try. So how does natural selection come up with such good solutions to the problem of survival so quickly, given population sizes and the number of generations available? A traditional answer is through so-called massive parallelism: living things tend to have a lot of offspring, allowing many potential solutions to be tested simultaneously. But a radical new addition to the theory of evolution provides a new perspective on this question and more – while turning ideas of intelligent design on their head. It seems that, added together, evolution’s simple processes form an intricate learning machine that draws lessons from past successes to improve future performance. Get to grips with this idea, and we could have a raft of new tools with which to understand evolution. That could allow us to better preserve the diversity of life on Earth – and perhaps even harness evolution’s power.

3-31-16 Microbes can play games with the mind
Microbes can play games with the mind
The bacteria in our guts may help decide who gets anxiety and depression. The 22 men took the same pill for four weeks. When interviewed, they said they felt less daily stress and their memories were sharper. The brain benefits were subtle, but the results, reported at last year’s annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, got attention. That’s because the pills were not a precise chemical formula synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry. The capsules were brimming with bacteria. In the ultimate PR turnaround, once-dreaded bacteria are being welcomed as health heroes. People gobble them up in probiotic yogurts, swallow pills packed with billions of bugs and recoil from hand sanitizers. Helping us nurture the microbial gardens in and on our bodies has become big business, judging by grocery store shelves.

3-31-16 Here's how online ads are screwing with your brain
Here's how online ads are screwing with your brain
The era of targeted online ads is a mixture of convenient and creepy — advertising algorithms now ensure that shortly after you search for a wedding venue, for instance, banner ads for wedding DJs and florists will begin popping up on your screen. But now, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that targeted ads may even change how you feel about yourself. Researchers found that internet users who knew that they were seeing targeted ads for environmentally friendly or sophisticated products actually began to think of themselves as greener and classier. "The power of a behaviorally targeted ad for a green product isn't just that it persuades you to buy the advertised product. It actually makes you feel more environmentally conscious," said Rebecca Walker Reczek, a professor of marketing at Ohio State University and co-author on the study, in a statement. "In a sense, you become more like what the ads say you are."

3-30-16 Artificial cell designed in lab reveals genes essential to life
Artificial cell designed in lab reveals genes essential to life
Bacterium created in Craig Venter's lab breaks record for smallest genome and could help reveal secrets of life. WE HAVE even further to go to understand life than we thought. In creating the latest landmark synthetic organism – the world’s first minimal genome – Craig Venter and his team have discovered that we don’t know the functions of almost a third of the genes that are vital for life. “Finding so many genes without a known function is unsettling, but it’s exciting because it’s left us with much still to learn,” says Alistair Elfick, a bioengineer at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “It’s like the ‘dark matter’ of biology.”

3-30-16 Giving mosquitoes chemical weapons helps keep them under control
Giving mosquitoes chemical weapons helps keep them under control
Releasing males armed with chemical or biological payloads could greatly boost the effectiveness of an eco-friendly method of pest control. Releasing sterile males has long been used as a measure to reduce or even eradicate populations of wild insects without harmful side effects. Now it’s been shown that equipping these males with a chemical or biological payload massively boosts their destructive power. Such enhancements make the approach “ten to 100 times more effective”, said Jérémy Bouyer of French research organisation CIRAD at a conference in London. The exact figure depends on the precise method and conditions. Bouyer’s team is developing the approach to tackle Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika, dengue, chikungunya and malaria, as well as the fruit-damaging medfly.

3-30-16 Hobbits died out earlier than thought
Hobbits died out earlier than thought
Tiny hominids disappeared from their island about same time Homo sapiens appeared in the region. Hobbits disappeared from their island home nearly 40,000 years earlier than previously thought, new evidence suggests. This revised timeline doesn’t erase uncertainty about the evolutionary origins of these controversial Indonesian hominids. Nor will the new evidence resolve a dispute about whether hobbits represent a new species, Homo floresiensis, or were small-bodied Homo sapiens. Hobbits vanished about 50,000 years ago at Liang Bua Cave on Flores, an island situated between Borneo and Australia’s northern coast, say archaeologist Thomas Sutikna of the University of Wollongong, Australia, and his colleagues.

3-30-16 Age of 'Hobbit' species revised
Age of 'Hobbit' species revised
The diminutive human species nicknamed "the Hobbit" is older than previously recognised, scientists now say. The discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003 caused a sensation because it seemed the creature could have been alive in the quite recent past. But a new analysis indicates the little hominin probably went extinct at least 50,000 years ago - not the 12,000 years ago initially thought to be the case.

3-29-16 Interstellar cloud could have wiped out the dinosaurs
Interstellar cloud could have wiped out the dinosaurs
The mass extinction 65 million years ago could have been kick-started when the solar system ploughed into a vast nebula. A nebular winter could have doomed the dinosaurs. The clue is a thick layer of an extraterrestrial element on the ocean floor, now claimed to be the result of Earth colliding with a galactic cloud. The most-heard explanation for the dinosaurs’ demise is an asteroid impact, which left a crater off the coast of Mexico and a worldwide 30-centimetre-thick layer of iridium, an element otherwise rare on Earth. But every so often, astronomers suspect, the solar system ploughs into a giant nebula of molecular gas and dust much denser than typical interstellar space. The resulting galactic fog would have darkened skies and cooled the ground until a harsh winter set in. It would also have destroyed the ozone layer and halted photosynthesis.

3-28-16 Cancer killers send signal of success
Cancer killers send signal of success
Nanoparticles deliver drug, then give real-time feedback when tumor cells die. New cancer-fighting nanoparticles deliver results — and status reports. Tiny biochemical bundles carry chemotherapy drugs into tumors and light up when surrounding cancer cells start dying. Future iterations of these lab-made particles could allow doctors to monitor the effects of cancer treatment in real time, researchers report the week of March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

3-25-16 Synthetic bug given 'fewest genes'
Synthetic bug given 'fewest genes'
Scientists have taken another step in their quest to understand the bare genetic essentials of life. A team led by US research entrepreneur Craig Venter has created a semi-synthetic, functioning bacterium in the lab that has fewer than 500 genes. This minimal number is lower than in any known free-living bug in nature. The group says its investigations aim to push the boundaries of fundamental knowledge and could lead to novel means to make new drugs and other chemicals.

3-25-16 Brain-boosting blueberries
Brain-boosting blueberries
Blueberries may help improve memory and brain function in older adults with cognitive decline, a new study suggests.

3-25-16 T. rex baby bump
T. rex baby bump
Paleontologists can rarely glean a dinosaur’s sex from its fossilized remains, but researchers studying the femur of a 68 million–year-old Tyrannosaurus rex have determined the creature was not only female but also pregnant and weeks away from laying eggs.

3-24-16 Scientists build minimum-genome bacterium
Scientists build minimum-genome bacterium
Only 473 genes needed to keep organism alive. Scientists have built a bacterium that contains the minimal genetic ingredients needed for free living. This bacterium’s entire set of genetic blueprints, its genome, consists of only 473 genes, including 149 whose precise biological function is unknown. The newly-created bacterium contains a minimalist version of the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides. Mycoplasma already have some of the smallest known genomes. M. mycoides used in the experiments started with 901 genes. In comparison, other bacteria, including E. coli, may have 4,000 to 5,000 genes. Humans have more than 22,000 genes, although not all are necessary

3-24-16 Artificial cell designed in lab reveals genes essential to life
Artificial cell designed in lab reveals genes essential to life
Bacteria created in Craig Venter's lab breaks record for smallest genome and could help reveal secrets of life. We have even further to go to understand life than we thought. The world’s first minimal genome, whittled down by gene elimination to the tiniest possible stash of DNA capable of supporting life, suggests that we don’t know the functions of almost a third of those essential genes. A creature formed of a minimal cell – simpler than any existing in nature – could help in studying the core functions of life, and allow us to work out the function of every gene that keeps it alive. That could yield insights into how genes can be repurposed, or let us design genomes from scratch, for applications in fields as diverse as medicine, energy and combating climate change.

3-24-16 Embryo cells decide their future only two days after conception
Embryo cells decide their future only two days after conception
The identical-looking cells of a four-cell embryo have already started deciding their fates, a discovery that could improve IVF and stem cell therapies. Cells in an embryo begin deciding their future only two days after conception, when the embryo is made up of just four seemingly identical cells. The discovery could help improve IVF success rates and how we use stem cells. Once a human sperm has fertilised an egg, the resulting embryo begins tumbling down the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus, where it will implant around a week later. As it travels, it starts to divide: first into two cells, then four, then eight. By the time the embryo implants in the uterus lining, it has become a blastocyst, made up of hundreds of cells, some of which will become the placenta, and some the fetus. We know that around this stage – days eight to 16 after fertilisation – the cells have taken on a range of varying roles, but it has been unclear when our cells first decide what it is that they should become.

3-24-16 The evolution of the nose: why is the human hooter so big?
The evolution of the nose: why is the human hooter so big?
The human nose is unique among primates – but fresh evidence shows it is poor at regulating temperature, raising doubts over its assumed adaptation to climate. Why did our ancestors develop a prominent protruding nose when most primates have flat nasal openings? A new study suggests that our unusual nose may have gained its shape simply as a by-product of other, more important changes in the structure of our face – although other researchers insist that some human noses have been directly shaped by natural selection. One of the many functions of the nose and nasal cavity is to act as an “air conditioner”. Together, they make sure that the air an animal breathes in is made warm and humid enough to avoid damaging the delicate lining of the lungs.

3-23-16 Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats
Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats
People who carry the common Toxoplasma parasite are more likely to be aggressive and to have outbursts of disproportionate rage. Infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite carried by cats, has been linked to a human psychiatric condition called intermittent explosive disorder. People who have IED typically experience disproportionate outbursts of aggression, like road rage. T. gondii is already known to change the behaviour of the organisms it infects. By making rodents bolder and more adventurous, the parasite makes them more likely to be caught and eaten by a cat, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle.

3-23-16 Microbes can play games with the mind
Microbes can play games with the mind
The bacteria in our guts may help decide who gets anxiety and depression. The 22 men took the same pill for four weeks. When interviewed, they said they felt less daily stress and their memories were sharper. The brain benefits were subtle, but the results, reported at last year’s annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, got attention. That’s because the pills were not a precise chemical formula synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry. The capsules were brimming with bacteria. These bacteria are possibly working at more than just keeping our bodies healthy: They may be changing our minds. Recent studies have begun turning up tantalizing hints about how the bacteria living in the gut can alter the way the brain works. These findings raise a question with profound implications for mental health: Can we soothe our brains by cultivating our bacteria?

3-23-16 ‘Fearless’ twins reveal how our bodies affect our emotions
‘Fearless’ twins reveal how our bodies affect our emotions
Changes in our body seem to trigger emotions like fear, but they only kick in if we are aware of the sensations, hints a study of people who can’t feel fear. Experiments on twins who can’t feel fear are suggesting that some emotions are experienced only after we become aware of changes to our body. Many studies have shown that the amygdalae – two almond-shaped regions near the centre of the brain – are crucial for feeling fear. People who have lost their amygdalae through brain injury or disease also lose the ability to feel fear. In 2013, Justin Feinstein at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and his colleagues managed to scare three “fearless” people – two female identical twins and a woman known as S.M., none of whom have amygdalae – by getting them to inhale carbon dioxide, making them choke. This was the first time that S.M. had experienced fear since she was a child. It showed that the amygdalae are not essential for all kinds of fear.

3-23-16 Cute prairie dogs are serial killers savaging ground squirrels
Cute prairie dogs are serial killers savaging ground squirrels
Cuddly looking prairie dogs are herbivores, but that doesn't stop them killing their ground squirrel neighbours to help them prosper. It was thought to be just a small, furry grass-nibbler, but the white-tailed prairie dog has another life – as a serial killer. The rabbit-sized herbivore’s relations with the ground squirrels that forage alongside it often explode into murderous attacks – with some prairie dogs biting squirrels to death on a regular basis. This is thought to be the first time that one mammalian herbivore has been seen routinely killing members of another herbivore species. What’s more, those who kill go on to lead more successful lives than those who don’t, so it may be an important behaviour shaping evolutionary “fitness”.

3-23-16 Ash tree set for extinction in Europe
Ash tree set for extinction in Europe
The ash tree is likely to be wiped out in Europe, according to the largest-ever survey of the species. The trees are being killed off by the fungal disease ash-dieback along with an invasive beetle called the emerald ash borer. According to the research, published in the Journal of Ecology, the British countryside will never look the same again. The paper says that the ash will most likely be "eliminated" in Europe. This could mirror the way Dutch elm disease largely wiped out the elm in the 1980s.

3-22-16 Aquatic plant that feeds like a Venus flytrap faces extinction
Aquatic plant that feeds like a Venus flytrap faces extinction
An endangered aquatic plant that catches water fleas and mosquito larvae has seeds that can't survive in seed banks, challenging conservation efforts. An icon of evolution, it may be, but the waterwheel plant is facing extinction – and even preservation in a seed bank looks doubtful. It is the only aquatic plant known to use jaw-like snap-traps on its leaves to catch prey. It fascinated Charles Darwin, whose experiments showed it was adapted for capturing water fleas and mosquito larvae. Habitat destruction and illegal collection mean that its abundance has dropped by almost 90 per cent over the past century. And a study now says that a common way of conserving plants – seed banks – might not work for this species, which rarely produces seeds.

3-22-16 It’s a herbivore-kill-herbivore world
It’s a herbivore-kill-herbivore world
Serial killer prairie dogs that target another species’ babies are more successful moms. White-tailed prairie dogs — those stand-up, nose-wiggling nibblers of grass — turn out to be routine killers of baby ground squirrels. And the strongest sign of successful white-tailed motherhood could be repeat ground squirrel kills, researchers say. At a Colorado prairie dog colony, females that kill at least two ground squirrels raise three times as many offspring during their lives as nonkiller females, says John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg. The “serial killers,” as he calls repeat-attack females, rarely even nibble at the carcasses and aren’t getting much, if any, meat bonus. Instead, the supermom assassins may improve grazing in their territories by reducing competition from grass-snitching ground squirrels.

3-21-16 Fish with rainbow skin shows how cells move when skin regrows
Fish with rainbow skin shows how cells move when skin regrows
A genetically modified fish has skin cells of a bewildering array of colours, allowing us to see them move as they regenerate and repair damaged tissue. A genetically engineered fish has skin cells in all the colours of the rainbow and then some. Its beauty is more than skin deep though – the huge variation in colour could be used to track individual cells as they develop, move and regenerate. As an adult, this fish looked reddish in colour, but when the team shone a UV light on its skin, it lit up in technicolour. “We didn’t know these patterns would develop just in the skin,” says Poss. “When you make genetically engineered animals, you can’t fully predict the outcome.” (Webmaster's comment: Scary! Genetic content in DNA is so interconnected we mess with it at our peril if it get's loose in the wild.)

3-19-16 Human DNA found in a Neandertal woman
Human DNA found in a Neandertal woman
Humans and Neandertals may have hooked up much earlier than previously thought. Early ancestors of humans in Africa interbred with Neandertals about 110,000 years ago, an international group of researchers reports online February 17 in Nature. That genetic mixing left its mark on the DNA of a Siberian Neandertal, the researchers have discovered. While many humans today carry bits of Neandertal DNA, this is the first time human DNA has been found embedded in a Neandertal’s genes.

3-18-16 Genetics Rules
Genetics Rules
Two strangers from opposite sides of the world who look exactly like each other met for the first time—and even their boyfriends struggled to tell them apart. Maddy Renslow, from Washington state, and Amber Eckart, from Perth, Australia, found each other on TwinStrangers.com, which matches look-alikes, and came face-to-face in California last month. The pair of doppelgängers discovered that they share more than looks: They both went to beauty school, graduated the same year, and have similar mannerisms. “It really kind of felt natural, like meeting a long-lost friend,” Renslow, 22, said of Amber, 23. “We instantly connected.” (Webmaster's comment: More proof that genetics rules.)

3-18-16 How extinct humans left their mark on us
How extinct humans left their mark on us
Most people in the world share 2-4% of DNA with Neanderthals while a few inherited genes from Denisovans, a study confirms. Denisovan DNA lives on only in Pacific island dwellers, while Neanderthal genes are more widespread, researchers report in the journal Science. Meanwhile, some parts of our genetic code show little trace of our extinct cousins. They include hundreds of genes involved in brain development and language.

3-17-16 Pacific islanders got a double whammy of Stone Age DNA
Pacific islanders got a double whammy of Stone Age DNA
Modern-day Melanesians carry a two-pronged genetic legacy of ancient interbreeding that still affects their health and well-being, researchers say. Unlike people elsewhere in the world, these Pacific islanders possess nuclear DNA that they inherited from two Stone Age hominid populations, say population geneticist Benjamin Vernot, formerly of the University of Washington in Seattle, and his colleagues. At least some of that ancient DNA contains genes involved in important biological functions, the researchers find. Nuclear DNA is passed from both parents to their children. The finding means that ancestors of people now living in the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of islands off Papua New Guinea’s northeastern coast, mated with Neandertals as well as with mysterious Neandertal relatives called Denisovans.

3-17-16 Women live longer than men but suffer more years of poor health
Women live longer than men but suffer more years of poor health
Compared to 1982, the number of further healthy years an elderly man can expect to live has increased, but the same is not true for women. Three decades of US health data have revealed that women often spend many of their extra years in poor health and disability. Life expectancy for women in the US is 81, five years more than for men. It has however been climbing for both genders: in 1995, women and men were expected to live to 79 and 73, respectively. But the figures show a worrying trend. The health in which women spend their lengthening old age seems to have stopped improving since 2000. Women now account for 57 per cent of US citizens aged over 65, but 68 per cent of those who need daily assistance in their lives.

3-17-16 Artificial DNA folds into parcels that can survive inside us
Artificial DNA folds into parcels that can survive inside us
Xenonucleic acids have been folded into stable 3D structures, which may help us deliver drugs to where they are needed in the body. This tiny origami has a lasting appeal. Strands of artificial genetic material have been folded into 3D shapes of our own choosing for the first time. These parcels could be used to carry medicinal cargoes inside the body. Naturally occurring nucleic acids like DNA and RNA perform many biological functions, from information storage to catalysing reactions. About a decade ago, biochemists came up with a new use for such molecules: DNA origami. Long strands of DNA can be designed so that they fold into 2D or 3D shapes that could deliver drugs to where they are needed in the body, among other things.

3-17-16 How gene editing will help solve the world's looming food crisis
How gene editing will help solve the world's looming food crisis
Imagine super-crops that could endure harsher, drier, and hotter growing conditions. Or crops that are impervious to fungus or disease. The World Bank forecasts that by 2050, at least 50 percent more food will have to be produced to feed a world population that will have climbed from today's 7 billion to 9 billion; climate change, meanwhile, could cut crop yields by more than 25 percent in that same time frame.

3-17-16 Aquatic plant that feeds like a Venus flytrap faces extinction
Aquatic plant that feeds like a Venus flytrap faces extinction
An endangered aquatic plant that catches water fleas and mosquito larvae has seeds that can't survive in seed banks, challenging conservation efforts. It’s an icon of evolution, but the waterwheel plant is facing extinction – and even its preservation in a seed bank looks doubtful. The waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) is the only aquatic plant known to use jaw-like traps to catch prey. It fascinated Charles Darwin, whose experiments were the first to show it was adapted for capturing water fleas and mosquito larvae. The traps on the tips of its leaves are some of the fastest-moving appendages in the plant kingdom, taking just 10 miliseconds to snap shut when small invertebrates land on them.

3-16-16 Rats learn to sense infrared in hours thanks to brain implants
Rats learn to sense infrared in hours thanks to brain implants
Rat brains quickly adapted to use data from four infrared sensors, allowing them to "see" in the dark and paving the way for augmenting the human brain. In a lab in North Carolina, a group of rats is getting an extra one. Thanks to implants in their brains, they have learned to sense and react to infrared light. The rats show the brain’s ability to process unfamiliar data– an early step towards augmenting the human brain. In an older, single sensor version of the experiment, it took the rats one month to adapt. With four sensors, it took them just three days. “It seems that nature designed the adult mammalian brain with the possibility of upgrades.“

3-16-16 Evolution acting on older dads is protecting our genetic health
Evolution acting on older dads is protecting our genetic health
A study of more than a million people going back four centuries shows that we are still evolving – not into superhumans, but to stay as we are. Almost all children in rich countries now survive to adulthood. That has led some biologists to suggest that evolution has essentially stopped. The thinking is that if children are less likely to die, those with lots of adverse new mutations are more likely to pass these on, so natural selection is no longer stopping these genetic changes from building up in the population.

3-16-16 Just how are we related to our chimp cousins?
Just how are we related to our chimp cousins?
It's the original missing link: the extinct ape that is the common ancestor of chimps and humans. But we still don't know what it looked like. ASTONISHING fossils are found every year, but we still haven’t dug up the original “missing link”. Where is this last common ancestor of humans and chimps? “I would love to know,” says Sergio Almécija of the George Washington University in Washington DC. “That question is keeping me awake at night.” We have a pretty good idea when and where this creature was dragging its knuckles, or swinging through the trees: in Africa, around 7 million years ago. But fossil evidence will be very, very hard to find. After decades of searching we have a reasonably rich collection of fossils of our hominin ancestors stretching back 4 million years, but barely a couple of shoe boxes full from earlier lineages. There are many reasons for this, says Nathan Young at the University of California, San Francisco. “Hominins are comparatively more abundant both because they began living in regions that are more likely to fossilise, like lake shores and caves, and there are a lot more people actively searching for them.”

3-16-16 MRSA superbug’s resistance to antibiotics is broken
MRSA superbug’s resistance to antibiotics is broken
Newly discovered chemical compounds can make MRSA bacteria vulnerable to the antibiotics they normally resist, restoring the old drugs’ former powers. MRSA is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, and the second biggest cause of death from drug-resistant bacteria in the US. These bugs are resistant to beta-lactams,the most widely used class of antibiotics. These drugs work by targeting peptidoglycans, essential components of a bacterium’s cell wall. But MRSA protects itself against the onslaught using a molecule that can soak up the drug and stop it from working.

3-16-16 Lost memories retrieved for mice with signs of Alzheimer’s
Lost memories retrieved for mice with signs of Alzheimer’s
Method shows where the ability to remember breaks down in early stages of the disease. Using flashes of blue light, scientists have pulled forgotten memories out of the foggy brains of mice engineered to have signs of early Alzheimer’s disease. This memory rehab feat, described online March 16 in Nature, offers new clues about how the brain handles memories, and how that process can go awry. The result “provides a theoretical mechanism for reviving old, forgotten memories,” says Yale School of Medicine neurologist Arash Salardini. Memory manipulations, such as the retrieval of lost memories and the creation of false memories, were “once the realm of science fiction,” he says. But this experiment and other recent work have now accomplished these feats, at least in rodents.

3-16-16 Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time
Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time
Watching the birth of new neurons has revealed their role in distinguishing between good and bad memories – a discovery that could aid treatment for depression. Newborn neurons vital for memory have been viewed in a live brain for the first time. The work could aid treatments for anxiety and stress disorders. Attila Losonczy at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and his team implanted a tiny microscope into the brains of live mice, the brain cells of which had been modified to make newly made neurons glow.

3-16-16 Human stem cell with half a genome could help infertile couples
Human stem cell with half a genome could help infertile couples
The breakthrough could produce new cancer therapies, aid infertility and help us to understand why we reproduce sexually. Scientists have created a new kind of human stem cell that has just half a genome. The cells can be turned into any tissue in the human body, despite only containing one set of chromosomes. The discovery will provide a vital tool for developing therapies to treat a range of conditions, including cancer and infertility, and may even shed light on why we reproduce sexually via two parents rather than one.

3-16-16 Florida one step closer to genetically modified mosquito trial
Florida one step closer to genetically modified mosquito trial
The US Food and Drug Administration has provisionally ruled that using modified mosquitos to cut the wider population is not expected to have adverse effects. FLORIDA is edging towards unleashing genetically modified mozzies. The insects are able to slash the wider mosquito population through mating, and so can forestall diseases that the insects transmit. A proposed trial release would have no significant negative impact on the health of people, animals or the environment, the US Food and Drug Administration provisionally ruled last week. The FDA is now accepting public feedback ahead of a final verdict.

3-16-16 Fishy origin of bizarre fossil 'monster'
Fishy origin of bizarre fossil 'monster'
Scientists say a worm-like fossil with mysterious origins is actually the ancestor of living fish. The 300 million-year-old animal was found at an Illinois mine in 1958 by fossil collector Francis Tully. The "Tully monster" has been a puzzle to scientists ever since, and has been likened to worms and molluscs. US researchers say the fossil is a backboned animal rather than an invertebrate as once thought, based on an analysis of 1,000 museum specimens.

3-15-16 Ancient DNA identifies 'early Neanderthals'
Ancient DNA identifies 'early Neanderthals'
The oldest "nuclear DNA" from a human has identified some early representatives of the Neanderthal lineage. The well-preserved ancient remains from the "Pit of Bones" site in Spain have been known for more than three decades. They are about 400,000 years old, but their relationships to Neanderthals and other ancient relatives has been hotly debated. DNA analysis confirms that they lie on the evolutionary line to Neanderthals.

3-14-16 High-power biological wheels and motors imaged for first time
High-power biological wheels and motors imaged for first time
The gearing system that provides rotation in bacterial flagella, the only known examples of wheels in nature, has been resolved in 3D for the first time. Behold – the only known example of a biological wheel. Loved by creationists, who falsely think they are examples of “intelligent design”, the bacterial flagellum is a long tail that is spun like a propeller by nano-sized protein motors. Now these wheels and their gearing have been imaged in high resolution and three dimensions for the first time. Morgan Beeby and his colleagues at Imperial College London used an electron microscope to resolve the mechanisms that provide different amounts of torque to the motors. The motors are diverse, coming in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and power outputs. Indeed, the diversity of the motors and the fact that they have evolved many times in different bacterial lineages, scuppers the creationist view that the machinery is “irreducibly complex”.

3-14-16 Oldest ever human genome sequence may rewrite human history
Oldest ever human genome sequence may rewrite human history
Fossils from Spain’s “pit of bones“ have yielded 430,000-year-old nuclear DNA that reveals Neanderthals in the making - and the need for a rethink over our origins.

3-14-16 Skull of mini T. rex shows it gained intelligence before size
Skull of mini T. rex shows it gained intelligence before size
New remains plug a 20-million-year gap in the fossil record and suggest T. rex evolved a big brain as the first step to becoming apex predator.

3-14-16 Dinosaur find resolves T-Rex mystery
Dinosaur find resolves T-Rex mystery
A newly discovered species of Tyrannosaur - the group of meat-eating dinosaurs to which the infamous T-Rex belongs - could hold the key to how these creatures grew so huge. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, along with US and Russian colleagues, discovered the fossilised remains of the animal in Uzbekistan. They have named it Timurlengia. A study of the 90-million-year-old beast suggested its ears and brain were crucial in Tyrannosaurs' dominance.

3-11-16 The gray hair gene
The gray hair gene
People usually attribute graying hair to the effects of aging and stress—think of all those before-and-after photos of U.S. presidents—but a new study shows that we can also blame our DNA: Researchers at University College London have pinpointed a gray hair gene, suggesting that some people are born with an inherited tendency to go gray before their time. The team analyzed the hair types and genomes of more than 6,000 people of mixed ethnic ancestry from five Latin American countries to find the gene, which is known as IRF4 and is carried by about 15 percent of Europeans. Also linked to blond hair, IRF4 regulates the production and storage of melanin—the pigment that gives eyes, skin, and hair their color. “We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color, but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans,” lead author Kaustubh Adhikari tells TechTimes.com. The researchers estimate the gene is responsible for about 30 percent of graying. More research into how IRF4 works could lead to treatments that help delay or reverse this process. “Standard hair products are applied after your hair has been created,” Adhikari says, “but targeting the hair as it is being produced could result in greater consistency of color, or longer-lasting effects.”

3-11-16 Fossil reptile discovery 'something extraordinary'
Fossil reptile discovery 'something extraordinary'
A newly discovered 250-million-year-old fossil reptile from Brazil gives an "extraordinary" insight into life just before the dinosaurs appeared. At the time, the world was recovering from a massive extinction that wiped out most living species. The reptile, named Teyujagua or "fierce lizard", is the close relative of a group that gave rise to dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds. The fossil is "beautiful" and fills an evolutionary gap, say scientists.

3-10-16 Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time
Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time
Watching the birth of new neurons has revealed their role in distinguishing between good and bad memories – a discovery that could aid treatment for depression. Newborn neurons vital for memory have been viewed in a live brain for the first time. The work shows that new neurons in the adult brain are vital for learning the difference between similar memories, in mice at least. The discovery could aid treatments for depression, anxiety and stress disorders. For a long time, it was thought that we are born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have. Now we know that certain regions of the brain continue to make new neurons throughout life. Slices of brain tissue show that most of these are created in the hippocampus – a seahorse-shaped structure known to be crucial for learning and memory.

3-10-16 Dracula orchid flowers mimic mushrooms to attract flies
Dracula orchid flowers mimic mushrooms to attract flies
3D-printed replicas show just how subtle the faked identity of Dracula orchid flowers is, involving smell, shape and spots that resemble flies. In the cloud forests of Central and South America live masters of disguise. Some species of orchid have evolved an unusual solution to pollination in forests with few bees: part of their flowers look and smell like mushrooms. The flowers of some Dracula orchids have a lower petal – known as a labellum – that closely resembles the mushrooms that live in their forest habitat. The flowers also emit chemicals identical to those given off by some fungi. Scientists had long speculated that this mimicry attracts fungus gnat flies, which lay their eggs on mushrooms and act as pollinators. However, the exact importance of appearance and scent to the orchids’ disguise had not been studied before.

3-9-16 Key moments in human evolution happened far from our Africa home
Key moments in human evolution happened far from our Africa home
Apes originated in Africa and our more recent evolution happened there. But an interlude in another land made us who we are, says anthropologist David Begun. Between 20 and 7 million years ago, Earth really was the planet of the apes. At least 100 species roamed the world before the first humans appeared. They were remarkable in number and diversity, but are more fascinating still for what they tell us about our own origins. Key human traits including big brains, dexterous hands, erect posture and long childhood can be traced back to this period. And the really surprising thing is that these features all evolved in European apes. The news is full of discoveries that change our ideas about human evolution. But when we think about our ancestors, we tend to focus on the past 8 million years, after our lineage split from that of chimpanzees. What came before that, though? Three decades of study have convinced me that this early period was absolutely crucial. There’s no doubt that apes originated in Africa, or that our more recent evolution happened there. But for a time between these two landmarks, apes hovered on the verge of extinction on their home continent while flourishing in Europe. What’s more, the transformation of European species during this time made us who we are.

3-9-16 Meat eating accelerated face evolution
Meat eating accelerated face evolution
Eating raw meat and making stone tools may be behind the smaller teeth and faces of humans compared with their ancient relatives. Meat and tools, not the advent of cooking, was the trigger that freed early humans to develop a smaller chewing apparatus, a study suggests. This in turn may have allowed other changes, such as improved speech and even shifts in the size of the brain. One of the possible reasons for these changes, cooking, did not become commonplace until 500,000 years ago, the researchers found. This means that it probably did not play a significant role in the evolution of smaller chewing muscles and teeth. "If you were to go and spend time with chimpanzees, you'd find that they spend.. about half of their day chewing."

3-8-16 Clues to why the 'sea dragons' died out
Clues to why the 'sea dragons' died out
A dramatic shift in the Earth's climate killed off marine reptiles that swam at the time of the dinosaurs, according to a new study. About 100 million years ago, the oceans warmed up, polar ice melted and sea levels rose to unprecedented heights. Scientists say the ichthyosaurs, or "fish lizards", could not adapt to the new conditions, spelling their demise. The research is the latest twist in the mystery of how and why the predators disappeared. Evidence suggests their extinction about 100 million years ago was driven by intense climate change and their inability to adapt to the changing world.

3-7-16 Farmers may have been accidentally making GMOs for millennia
Farmers may have been accidentally making GMOs for millennia
The ancient practice of grafting allows plants to swap genomes and can give rise to "naturally" genetically modified crops. We have been accidentally genetically engineering plants – and eating GMOs – for millennia. That is the implication of a series of studies showing the ancient practice of grafting can allow even distantly related plants to swap all three kinds of genomes they possess. Grafting involves transplanting part of one plant onto another so they fuse and continue to grow. Farmers have been grafting plants for thousands of years to combine, say, a tree that bears delicious fruit with one that has disease-resistant roots. Grafting also occurs naturally, when branches press together. Bock’s 2009 study showed that cells on either side of a graft could exchange chloroplasts – organelles that carry out photosynthesis and have their own small genome. Then, in 2014, another study found that the entire nucleus of a cell, containing the main genome, could be transferred across grafts. The transferred nucleus can be added to an existing cell nucleus – fusing the two genomes and potentially creating a new species. Now a team led by Pal Maliga of Rutgers University in New Jersey has shown that cells also swap mitochondria – energy-generating organelles with a small genome of their own – across grafts. And once entire mitochondria from one plant get into the cells of another, they mix their DNA with that of the existing mitochondria. This means all three kinds of plant genome can be swapped via grafts.

3-7-16 Urine from premature babies could repair damaged kidneys
Urine from premature babies could repair damaged kidneys
Stem cells in babies' urine seem to help regenerate kidney tissue, protecting it from toxic drugs and could pep up organs for transplantation. Urine from premature babies could provide a rich supply of stem cells for medical treatments or for rebooting worn-out kidneys for transplantation. Stem cells are the cellular putty from which all tissues in our body are made. They can be hard to come by though. Embryos provide a great source of stem cells that can change into a whole manner of tissues, but they involve the destruction of an embryo. Over the years, researchers have found other sources of stem cells at a slightly later stage of development that can develop into specific cell types. For example, a type of stem cell destined to become kidney cells can be isolated from adult urine. But babies born early might provide a better source, says Elena Levtchenko at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL), Belgium.

3-7-16 UTI bacteria use hooks to hang on inside you when you pee
UTI bacteria use hooks to hang on inside you when you pee
Bacteria have a nasty trick for climbing up into your bladder and causing cystitis: whenever you pee, a grappling hook stops them getting flushed out. When you’re fighting a urinary tract infection, you might not want to dwell on the details of what’s going on down there. But there’s been a longstanding mystery about these common infections – how do the offending bugs manage to climb up into your bladder without being flushed out when you pee? The answer is that they can grip tightly to the body’s cells whenever they feel the force of urine flowing past. When urination stops, the mechanism releases, and the bacteria carry on moving onwards and upwards further into your body.

3-6-16 Can you teach your body to heal without medicine?
Can you teach your body to heal without medicine?
In an echo of Pavlov's famous conditioning experiments, studies show we can train our bodies into thinking we've had medicine. The results were part of a well-known and seemingly mundane phenomenon that has been driving a quiet revolution in immunology. Proponents hope that the process, by allowing doctors to cut drug doses, will not only minimize harmful side effects but also slash billions from health-care costs, transforming treatment for conditions such as autoimmune disorders and cancer. The secret? Teaching your body how to respond to a particular medicine, so that in the future it can trigger the same change on its own.

3-5-16 Amber-trapped lizard fossils reveal 'lost world'
Amber-trapped lizard fossils reveal 'lost world'
Lizards locked in amber for 99 million years give a glimpse of a "lost world", say scientists. The ancient reptiles are preserved in "superb detail" down to scales of skin, the tip of a tongue and tiny claws. Two of the fossils are related to modern-day chameleons and geckos, revealing how features such as sticky toe-pads evolved. The lizards inhabited tropical forests in what is now Myanmar during the Mid-Cretaceous Period. (Webmaster's comment: Those who don't believe in reality - Creationists - are going to love trying to refute or explain this.)

3-4-16 Scientists 'find cancer's Achilles heel'
Scientists 'find cancer's Achilles heel'
Scientists believe they have discovered a way to "steer" the immune system to kill cancers. Researchers at University College, London have developed a way of finding unique markings within a tumour - its "Achilles heel" - allowing the body to target the disease. But the personalised method, reported in Science journal, would be expensive and has not yet been tried in patients.

3-4-16 Dinosaur-era geckos and chameleons perfectly preserved in amber
Dinosaur-era geckos and chameleons perfectly preserved in amber
The 100-million-year-old lizards in Burmese amber are some of the best preserved examples known, and are revealing secrets of their evolution. A new collection of 12 lizards preserved in amber dates back to middle of the Cretaceous period – when dinosaurs such as the massive Argentinosaurus were still around – and may include the ancestors of geckos and chameleons. The specimens come from Myanmar’s Kachin state and are thought to have lived in tropical forest. Each is embedded in Burmese amber, which previous studies dated to about 100 million years old. Previously, we knew of only a few fragments of amber lizards from the time of the dinosaurs – when modern lizard groups first evolved, according to genetic analyses. The lizards, discovered in private amber collections on loan to the American Museum of Natural History and Harvard University, are immaculate and unusually diverse. As such they suggest that major lizard groups were already established at that time. The specimens will now go on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

3-4-16 What do chimp ‘temples’ tell us about the evolution of religion?
What do chimp ‘temples’ tell us about the evolution of religion?
Biologists working in the Republic of Guinea have found evidence for an apparent "sacred tree" used by chimps, perhaps for some sort of ritual. All hail the sacred tree. I’ve often wondered aloud in the newsroom about the possibility of finding evidence of a chimp shrine, the discovery of a place where chimps pray to their deity. Biologists working in the Republic of Guinea found evidence for what seemed to be a “sacred tree” used by chimps, perhaps for some sort of ritual. Laura Kehoe of the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, set up camera traps by trees marked with unusual scratches. What she found gave her goosebumps: chimps were placing stones in the hollow of trees, and bashing trees with rocks. The behaviour could be a means of communication, since rocks make a loud bang when they hit hollow trees. Or it could be more symbolic. “Maybe we found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees.”

3-2-16 Alligators help protect bird nests – but still snack on chicks
Alligators help protect bird nests – but still snack on chicks
Wading birds like storks and egrets nest above alligators to get protection from other predators - but the reptiles still get their fill. It’s raining food for alligators in the Everglades – those that act as bodyguards for nesting birds get paid in chicks. It’s not uncommon for one animal to gain protection from a neighbour. In Florida’s Everglades, wading birds like storks and egrets preferentially build their nests where alligators live, because the presence of the big reptiles protects them from nest-raiding racoons and opossums. The benefit to the alligators comes from a steady supply of food, in the form of the chicks that fall from nests, either accidentally, or because they are pushed out by siblings or abandoned by their parents.

3-2-16 'Humble little fungus' is oldest known land fossil
'Humble little fungus' is oldest known land fossil
It is smaller than a human hair, resembles a mushroom, and is thought to be the earliest fossil of a land-dwelling organism. The fungus, which dates back 440 million years, spent its life under the ground rotting down matter. The pioneer, known as Tortotubus, could help explain how early life colonised the rocky barren Earth.

3-1-16 Why we never think our own kind smell bad
Why we never think our own kind smell bad
New research finds body odor is less disgusting if we share an identity with the stinky person in question. Tribalism has made a big comeback in the 21st century. In the United States and around the world, we're clinging ever more tightly to "people like us" and looking at outsiders with suspicion, or worse. How deep is this impulse? New research from Great Britain suggests it can be found at the sensory level. In two experiments, students whose personal identities were linked to their university were less disgusted by a sweaty T-shirt if it carried their school's logo. Body odor, it seems, isn't as off-putting if the person doing the perspiring is perceived as a member of our clan. "Group identities affect not only social perceptions, but also our basic sensual experiences," writes a research team led by Stephen Reicher of the University of St. Andrews and John Drury of the University of Sussex.

3-1-16 'Brain Prize' for UK research on memory mechanisms
'Brain Prize' for UK research on memory mechanisms
Three British researchers have won a prize worth one million euros, awarded each year for an "outstanding contribution to European neuroscience". Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris revealed how strengthened connections between brain cells can store our memories. Our present understanding of memory is built on their work, which unpicked the mechanisms and molecules involved.

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