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78 Evolution News Articles
for April 2016
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4-29-16 Let people most affected by gene editing write CRISPR rules
Let people most affected by gene editing write CRISPR rules
At a human gene editing summit in Paris today, scientists, ethicists and lawyers made the case for those affected by gene editing to call the shots. Who stands to benefit from – or lose out on – gene editing? Advances in our ability to tweak the human genome using CRISPR Cas-9 and similar techniques won’t only affect those at risk of genetic disorders. Women and disabled people are likely to be disproportionately affected. And people living in poor countries – who are at the greatest risk of disease – could miss out on the benefits. These were among the points raised at a summit held by the US National Academies of Science and Medicine’s Committee on Human Gene Editing in Paris today. The committee will draw up a set of recommendations based on the questions and comments raised by the audience – a mix of scientists, ethicists and lawyers.

4-29-16 Ebola virus does a total shutdown to hide before a fresh strike
Ebola virus does a total shutdown to hide before a fresh strike
Evidence that Ebola can lie dormant for over a year suggests that 17,000 survivors of the disease in West Africa could yet spread the virus to many others. Ebola refuses to die. Affected West African countries have repeatedly stopped transmission of the virus, only for fresh outbreaks to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. The most recent outbreak was in Liberia, where a 10-year-old boy in Monrovia was diagnosed with Ebola earlier this month. He had no known exposure to the virus, and the World Health Organization suspects he caught it from a survivor. At least seven of these outbreaks were triggered by the virus lingering silently in people who have recovered from Ebola. By tracing its evolution, researchers have now discovered how the virus does this: it completely shuts down and doesn’t even replicate – something never seen before in this type of virus.

4-29-16 The teenager who can’t help speaking in a French accent
The teenager who can’t help speaking in a French accent
Scanning the brain of a boy who has foreign accent syndrome has revealed that we use the cerebellum, a primitive region of our brains, to plan speech. Scans revealed that, compared with controls, the flow of blood to two parts of the boy’s brain were significantly reduced. One of these was the prefrontal cortex of the left hemisphere – a finding unsurprising to the team, as it is known to be associated with planning actions including speech. But the other region – the right side of the cerebellum – was unexpected. This part of the brain is known to be associated with coordinating actions, but was thought to be a more primitive region than the cortex. “Our results add to evidence that the cerebellum doesn’t just coordinate movement, but is also involved in the cognitive planning of an activity,” says Verhoeven.

4-29-16 Lizards share sleep patterns with humans
Lizards share sleep patterns with humans
Lizards share sleep patterns with humans, according to scientists. Until now, it was thought features of human sleep such as rapid eye movements were seen only in mammals and birds. Now, a study of the bearded dragon - a popular pet - suggests these distinctive sleep rhythms emerged hundreds of million of years ago in a distant ancestor. They could even have been present in dinosaurs, say scientists.

4-29-16 'Secret' of youthful looks in ginger gene
'Secret' of youthful looks in ginger gene
Scientists say they have made a leap in knowing why some people retain their youthful looks while others age badly. They found the first part of human DNA - the genetic code - that seems to affect how old people look to others. The mutations, reported in the journal Current Biology, were in the genetic instructions for protecting the body from UV radiation.

4-29-16 'Sleepless slugs' on rise, say experts
'Sleepless slugs' on rise, say experts
Last year's wet summer, followed by one of the warmest winters on record, has helped to create a generation of sleepless slugs, wildlife experts have warned. The weather has not been cold enough in recent months to send the creatures into hibernation. Conservation charity BugLife said Britons could start to a see a slug population "explosion". This could cause "devastation for our gardens", it warned.

4-28-16 Dragons sleep like mammals and birds
Dragons sleep like mammals and birds
Proof of reptiles’ slow-wave and REM cycle could alter understanding of slumber’s evolution. Sleeping lizards appear to share distinctive brain activity patterns with sleeping birds and mammals, researchers report in the April 29 Science. If true, the results suggest that human sleep patterns evolved by around 300 million years ago in a common ancestor of birds, mammals and reptiles.

4-28-16 This revolutionary genome-editing technique could repair disease-causing mutations
This revolutionary genome-editing technique could repair disease-causing mutations
A new improvement to the CRISPR genome-editing method could have big implications for diseases like cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer's. For all the hoopla about CRISPR, the revolutionary genome-editing technology has a dirty little secret: It's a very messy business. Scientists basically whack the famed double helix with a molecular machete, often triggering the cell's DNA repair machinery to make all sorts of unwanted changes to the genome beyond what they intended. Researchers recently unveiled in Nature a significant improvement — a new CRISPR system that can switch single letters of the genome cleanly and efficiently, in a way that they say could reliably repair many disease-causing mutations.

4-28-16 Gene therapy reverses sight loss and is long-lasting
Gene therapy reverses sight loss and is long-lasting
A genetic therapy has improved the vision of patients who would otherwise have gone blind. A clinical study by British scientists has shown that the improvement is long-lasting and so the therapy is suitable to be offered as a treatment. The researchers will apply for approval to begin trials to treat more common forms of blindness next year. The therapy involve injecting working copy of the gene into the back of the eyes to help cells regenerate.

4-28-16 Your choice of chocolate and contraceptive affect your gut bugs
Your choice of chocolate and contraceptive affect your gut bugs
The largest ever study of microbiomes reveals 69 factors that affect the bacteria that live in your gut, including diet and everyday medicines. Your chocolate preference influences the make-up of the microbial community in your gut. That’s according to the largest ever study of human microbiomes. Along with chocolate, it has identified 68 other factors that shape your gut bacteria, including how much sleep you get, whether you smoke or drink alcohol, and which medicines you take.

4-28-16 The man who woke up from autism
The man who woke up from autism
John Elder Robison had been living with autism for decades—when one day, he suddenly “woke up” from the condition, said Alexa Tsoulis-Reay in NYMag.com. The specialty car engineer had undergone a pioneering brain experiment known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), whereby magnetic pulses are sent into the brain to stimulate nerve cells—enabling a person with autism to become more emotionally intelligent. When he left the Boston hospital, Robison initially thought nothing had changed—until he walked into the waiting room of his car center. “I looked at everyone and there was this flood of emotion,” says Robison, 58. “I could see it all: They were scared and anxious and eager.” Robison’s transformation came with a serious downside. “I’d fantasized about really understanding other people’s emotional world. I imagined a world of sweetness and light. But when it happened, the reality showed me what a fool I’d been. Now, I could look at a person and sense all their emotions. And most were downers. It was enough to make me burst into tears.” The starkness of those feelings has faded with time—though Robison remains far more emotionally attuned than he used to be. Before, he says, “you might be crossing the street and fall and skin your knee. I’d say, ‘Come on, get up!’ After TMS, I’d look at you and wince. I never did that before.”

4-28-16 Nightshade plants bleed sugar as a call to ants for backup
Nightshade plants bleed sugar as a call to ants for backup
Tests suggest that nightshade goo contains lots of sugar and some amino acids that may help attract protective ants like Lasius niger (shown). Researchers suspect that a common hormone called jasmonic acid induces its production. Herbivores beware: Take a bite out of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), and you might have an ant problem on your hands. The plants produce a sugary goo that serves as an indirect defense, attracting ants that eat herbivores, Tobias Lortzing of Berlin’s Free University and colleagues write April 25 in Nature Plants.

4-28-16 The genetics of virginity and The dinosaurs’ gradual decline
The genetics of virginity and The dinosaurs’ gradual decline
The genetics of virginity The age at which people lose their virginity depends on a variety of factors, such as peer pressure, religion, parental guidance, culture, and, of course, opportunity. But new research suggests that to some extent, the timing of this rite of passage may also be influenced by genes. AND Paleontologists have long argued over exactly what annihilated the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, though most agree it was some immense catastrophe, most likely an asteroid smashing into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, massive volcanic eruptions, or both. Recent research, however, puts a new twist in this prehistoric scenario, suggesting that dinosaurs were experiencing a slow decline long before cataclysmic events finished them off for good.

4-27-16 Why are religions so judgemental? Ask evolution
Why are religions so judgemental? Ask evolution
The rise of moralising religions like Christianity can be explained by evolution – and so can their eventual downfall, says evolutionary psychologist Nicolas Baumard. Roman religions were materialistic rather than moralising. What happened to make materialistic religions transform into moralising ones? Before Christianity, most religions did not place a high value on morality. (Webmaster's comment: Baumard makes a excellent argument for his hypothesis. Read it before our party on Atheism Eve!)

4-27-16 The upside of nightmares: How bad dreams are also good for you
The upside of nightmares: How bad dreams are also good for you
Scary as nightmares are, they boost your creativity and provide a way to make sure night-time isn't fright time, as Michelle Carr is discovering in her lab. People who have frequent nightmares may be more empathetic when awake. Even video games can protect dreamers from distress during nightmares. (Webmaster's comment: And evolutions behind it. Struggling to help us survive and breed.)

When nightmares get serious

We all experience the odd bad dream, but when do nightmares become a serious problem? The diagnostic criteria for nightmare disorder looks at several elements.

The nightmare
Repeated incidence of intensely negative, well-remembered dreams, usually in the last third of the night

The awakening
Becoming alert and aware on waking

Distress
The nightmare causes clinically significant distress that interferes with quality of life or work

Time period
Acute: Experienced over one month or less
Subacute: Less than six months
Persistent: More than six months

Severity
Mild: Fewer than one per week
Moderate: One to six a week
Severe: Seven or more per week

4-27-16 Antibiotics apocalypse: Tales from fighters on the front line
Antibiotics apocalypse: Tales from fighters on the front line
Our hospitals could one day be brought to their knees by antibiotic-resistant superbugs – doctors and scientists are seeing the first glimpse of such a world. IN DECEMBER, bacteria carrying a gene that allows them to resist the antibiotic colistin were found in Denmark and China. The discovery meant that some types of bacteria now have the potential to become “pan-resistant”, with genes that defeat all our antibiotics. The shock this news caused rippled across the world, including on social networks like Reddit. Antibiotic resistance is at its worst in south Asia, so for those of us in the US and particularly northern Europe, it’s easy to think of it as a distant problem in the hospitals of India. It’s hard to imagine that our hospitals could soon be brought to their knees: routine operations too dangerous to carry out, people made infertile by untreatable super-gonorrhoea, organ recipients at grave risk of death because of their weakened immune systems. Yet while northern European countries, including the UK, have low levels of resistant strains, such infections kill more than 50,000 people across the continent and in the US every year. By 2050, annual deaths are expected to reach 317,000 in North America, and 390,000 in Europe, while the toll is expected to top 4 million in Asia and Africa.

4-27-16 Lizard gets to grips with city life by evolving stickier feet
Lizard gets to grips with city life by evolving stickier feet
Anole lizards have a talent for evolution, and it's not confined to the wild – urban-dwellers have evolved new traits to help them climb windows and walls. City living comes with unique challenges. If you’re a lizard, scaling a windowpane without sliding off is one of them. One lizard has already evolved traits to help it do just that. “Urban areas are just another environment. The animals that live there aren’t somehow immune to natural selection,” says Kristin Winchell of the University of Massachusetts Boston. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution never sleeps. You build a city and animals that have short life spans and breed once or more a year quickly evolve to live there.)

4-27-16 Words’ meanings mapped in the brain
Words’ meanings mapped in the brain
Language comprehension spread all across cortex, not confined to specific areas. The brain areas that respond to the meaning of words speckle much of the cerebral cortex, the wrinkly outer layer of the brain. In the brain, language pops up everywhere. All across the wrinkly expanse of the brain’s outer layer, a constellation of different regions handle the meaning of language, scientists report online April 27 in Nature. One region that responds to “family,” “home” and “mother,” for example, rests in a tiny chunk of tissue on the right side of the brain, above and behind the ear. That region and others were revealed by an intricate new map that charts the location of hundreds of areas that respond to words with related meanings. Such a detailed map hints that humans comprehend language in a way that’s much more complicated — and involves many more brain areas — than scientists previously thought, says Stanford University neuroscientist Russell Poldrack, who was not involved in the work. In fact, he says, “these data suggest we need to rethink how the brain organizes meaning.”

4-27-16 Smallest perching bird’s long-lost family revealed by genetics
Smallest perching bird’s long-lost family revealed by genetics
The pygmy bushtit was thought to be the only surviving species of its genus. Now genetics is showing that it’s not so different from its larger cousins. The pygmy bushtit’s diminutive size makes it a superlative species, and it has a genus all to itself. But now genetics is showing that it’s not so special after all. They found that it’s not so genetically isolated after all. It belongs in a group of long-tailed tits, and is most closely related to the black-throated bushtit, which lives throughout the Himalayas and eastern Asia as far south as Vietnam.

4-25-16 Plants might remember with prions
Plants might remember with prions
A flower-related protein passes lab test for recording and propagating shape changes. There’s no known mad plant disease. But prions — which show their dark side in mad cow disease — may occur in plants as a form of memory. Prions are proteins that change shape and shift tasks, and then trigger other proteins to make the same change. Inheriting prions lets cells “remember” and replicate that shift in form and function. Now a protein called luminidependens, which is connected with flowering, shows signs of these shapeshifter and template powers.

4-25-16 Plants may form memories using mad cow disease proteins
Plants may form memories using mad cow disease proteins
Prion proteins are infamous for their role in mad cow disease, but they also help yeasts form memories. They have now been discovered in plants. Prions – those infamous proteins linked to mad cow disease -may be responsible for memory in plants. The proteins may help plants change their activity based on past events, helping them decide when to flower, for instance. That plants have memory is well known. For instance, certain plants flower after a prolonged exposure to cold. But if the conditions are not right following the cold, the plant will delay flowering until temperature and light are just right. This suggests that plants “remember” the exposure to cold. You can even take tissue from such plants and grow a new plant, and it, too, will remember the encounter with the cold, and flower accordingly. The biological state is somehow perpetuated in both the original and new plants.

4-25-16 Plant bleeds nectar when attacked to summon ant defenders
Plant bleeds nectar when attacked to summon ant defenders
The bittersweet nightshade secretes sugary fluid from wounds, attracting ants that deter plant-eating pests. When attacked, bittersweet nightshade plants release sugary secretions from their wounds to summon ants that hit back at the assailants. Many plants attract predators of herbivores by secreting nectar from specialised glands called extrafloral nectaries. But the nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, is the first plant known to do this without any specialised nectar-making structures. Anke Steppuhn and colleagues at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, discovered that sweet droplets ooze out from wounds anywhere on the plant when it gets chewed by herbivores. How exactly they make it is unclear, but it could be as simple as having a few sucrose-transporting proteins in the wounded tissue.

4-23-16 Bacterium still a major source of crop pesticide
Bacterium still a major source of crop pesticide
Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria have provided pest-fighting toxins for over 50 years. The bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt, make a natural insecticide that kills pest larvae chowing down on crops. Today, plants are genetically engineered to produce the bacterial toxin. Lesser cornstalk borer larvae can ravage a peanut plant, but a plant with Bt genes kills hungry pests, protecting the plant. Bacterium effective when dusted on plants — The successful agent for destroying pesty insects, the microscopic bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, is most effective when it is dusted onto tobacco or other plants…. The bacteria are now recommended for use against tobacco budworms and hornworms. From known results …. they look promising as biological control agents. Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, is still used to combat agricultural pests. Different strains of the bacterium target different insects; one strain can even kill mosquito larvae in water. Organic farmers dust or spray Bt on crops and consider it a natural insecticide. In conventional farming, Bt DNA is often inserted into a plant’s genome, creating genetically modified crops that make their own pesticide. In 2015, 81 percent of U.S. corn and 84 percent of U.S. upland cotton contained Bt genes. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution often provides the best answer to protecting our crops.)

4-22-16 Bacteria use cool trick to make ice
Bacteria use cool trick to make ice
Microbes sort water molecules into heat-sapping formation. Pseudomonas syringae bacteria can freeze water at above-freezing temperatures, so they’re often used to help make artificial snow for ski slopes. Until now, it was a mystery how Pseudomonas syringae bacteria turn water into ice at temperatures above a normal freezing point. P. syringae pulls off its cool trick by rearranging nearby water molecules, researchers in the United States and Germany report online April 22 in Science Advances. This chill ability makes the microbes useful in making artificial snow at ski resorts. (Webmaster's comment: Just another example of evolution developing a method for living in extreme environments.)

4-22-16 Judge gene-edited crops by what they do, not how they are made
Judge gene-edited crops by what they do, not how they are made
Europe’s regulators should focus on food safety, not on whether they meet a ridiculous definition of a genetically modified organism, says Michael Le Page. The fact is, we have been genetically modifying plants and animals for at least 10,000 years. The Scentimental rose in your garden, the Majestic potato on your plate and the flandoodle dog by your feet – all have hundreds of genetic changes compared with their wild ancestors, some of them huge.

4-22-16 Gelada monkeys know their linguistic math
Gelada monkeys know their linguistic math
Ethiopian species’ calls are shorter when part of long sequences, study finds.The vocalizations of gelada monkeys follow a mathematical principle seen in human language, shedding light on language evolution, new research suggests. The grunts, moans and wobbles of gelada monkeys, a chatty species residing in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, observe a universal mathematical principle seen until now only in human language.

4-22-16 Gene found that controls beak size in Darwin’s finches
Gene found that controls beak size in Darwin’s finches
Drought survivors reveal molecular details of famous evolution story. Natural selection can sometimes work one gene at time, a new study of Darwin’s finches suggests. Variants of one gene had a major effect on rapid changes in beak size after a drought, researchers report in the April 22 Science. The finding may help explain how Darwin’s finches evolved into 18 species in an evolutionarily speedy 1 million to 2 million years.

4-22-16 Seed clue to how birds survived mass extinction
Seed clue to how birds survived mass extinction
Modern birds owe their survival to ancestors who were able to peck on seeds after the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs, say scientists. Some groups of beaked birds may have been able to survive the extinction. Bird-like dinosaurs with toothless beaks survived the "nuclear winter" that followed the meteor strike, because of their diet, a study says. The impact altered the climate of the Earth and blotted out sunlight. The loss of vegetation would have deprived plant-eating dinosaurs of food. In turn, meat-eaters suffered. But seeds still in the ground may have sustained small toothless bird ancestors until the planet began to recover.

4-21-16 Dali helps scientists crack our brain code
Dali helps scientists crack our brain code
Scientists at Glasgow University have established a world first by cracking the communication code of our brains. Researchers wanted to know how the brain processes information. Pioneering research in the field of cognitive neuroimaging has revealed how brains process what we see. The work has been led by Prof Philippe Schyns, the head of Glasgow's school of psychology, with more than a little help from Voltaire and Salvador Dali. How Dali's mind worked is a matter of continuing conjecture. But one of his works has helped unlock how our minds work. Or more precisely, how our brains see.

4-21-16 The foundations of schizophrenia may be laid down in the womb
The foundations of schizophrenia may be laid down in the womb
People who develop schizophrenia may have been born with structural changes to the brain, caused by lower levels of an important signalling molecule. People who develop schizophrenia may have been born with brains with a different structure. The finding adds further support to the idea that genetics can play a key role in schizophrenia, which involves delusions and hallucinations and is often a lifelong condition once it develops. Schizophrenia has been the subject of a fierce nature-versus-nurture debate: childhood abuse is linked with a raised risk of the condition, but 108 genes have been implicated, too. They found that on average these nerve cells had lower levels of a signalling molecule called miR-9 than similar cells developed from people who do not have schizophrenia. A small string of nucleic acids, miR-9 can change the activity of certain genes and is known to play a role in how neurons develop in the fetus.

4-21-16 Sleeping away from home? Half your brain is still awake
Sleeping away from home? Half your brain is still awake
People often struggle to sleep their first night in an unfamiliar room, which might be because the left brain remains vigilant for threats. There’s a soft mattress, a warm duvet, and a mint on your pillow. But despite the comfort of the hotel bed, you toss and turn on your first night away. Sound familiar? It could be because your left brain refuses to switch off properly when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings. This so-called first night effect is well-known in sleep research. Because of this, when studying sleep patterns in the lab, researchers sometimes discard data from the first night to allow participants time to get used to their surroundings.

4-21-16 Left brain stands guard while sleeping away from home
Left brain stands guard while sleeping away from home
Enhanced sensitivity to sound may serve as safety measure. Part of the left brain remains vigilant while sleeping in a strange place, a new study suggests. Away from home, people sleep with one ear open. In unfamiliar surroundings, part of the left hemisphere keeps watch while the rest of the brain is deeply asleep, scientists report April 21 in Current Biology. The results help explain why the first night in a hotel isn’t always restful. Some aquatic mammals and birds sleep with half a brain at a time, a trick called unihemispheric sleep. Scientists have believed that humans, however, did not show any such asymmetry in their slumber.

4-21-16 Clearer picture emerging of dinosaurs’ last days
Clearer picture emerging of dinosaurs’ last days
Slow march to extinction and sudden asteroid impact doomed dinos. Some birdlike dinosaurs seemed to thrive until their big extinction 66 million years ago. Toothed maniraptorans died out suddenly. But their beaked relatives, the ancestors of modern birds, may have survived by eating seeds. Neither a giant asteroid nor a gradual die out can take full blame for dinosaurs’ demise. Rather, the culprit may be both, two new studies suggest. Tens of millions of years before the asteroid delivered its killer blow some 66 million years ago, the number of dinosaur species had already begun to drop, researchers report online April 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But not all dino groups were in decline, including some maniraptoran dinosaurs.

4-20-16 Meet our hybrid ancestors who kept extinct humans’ DNA alive
Meet our hybrid ancestors who kept extinct humans’ DNA alive
Neanderthals, Denisovans and other extinct humans live on inside our cells – but what was life like for the hybrid humans who carried their genes? UNTIL about five years ago, one feature united the ancient human species that once walked the Earth: all were well and truly extinct. The Denisovans vanished from Eurasia around 50,000 years ago and the Neanderthals some 10,000 years later, leaving only Homo sapiens. Others went the same way much earlier, leaving just a few fossils – if that – to tell their story. But we now know these species are not entirely gone. Traces of them are buried within my cells and yours.

4-20-16 The 4 genetic traits that helped humans conquer the world
The 4 genetic traits that helped humans conquer the world
Red hair isn’t all we got from Neanderthals. Without DNA gleaned from extinct human species our ancestors might never have survived Earth’s extremes.

  • High-altitude survival
  • The gift of immunity
  • Paler skin for northern skies
  • A tolerance to cold

4-20-16 Baboons form orderly queues, researchers say
Baboons form orderly queues, researchers say
Baboons form an orderly queue for access to a patch of food, waiting until a dominant male has investigated it, research has shown. The order in which the animals queue is probably based on their position in the social hierarchy, according to lead researcher Dr Alecia Carter from the University of Cambridge. Baboons live in complex societies, with close bonds that are strengthened by activities like play and grooming. Scientists want to understand these primate societies in order to understand the evolution of our own.

4-20-16 21-million-year-old fossil is North America’s first monkey
21-million-year-old fossil is North America’s first monkey
The extraordinary find pushes back the arrival of primates to the continent by 18 million years but raises another question - why didn't they thrive there? About 3 million years ago, one of the most epic ecological struggles of all time – between the animals of North and South America – was at its peak. Now a fossil from Panama suggests the opening salvo actually came some 18 million years earlier, courtesy of a monkey invader. The appearance of the Panama isthmus, generally dated to about 3 million years ago, provided a land connection between North and South America for the first time. Once it formed, animals from the north – including sabre-toothed cats, deer and horses – surged south, as southern species – such as terror birds, ground sloths and armadillos – pushed north. The ecological battles, dubbed the Great American Interchange, raged for generations. Many species were lost. Now it seems that the first animal to cross continents did so long before the isthmus emerged.

4-20-16 Your genes can dictate when you lose your virginity
Your genes can dictate when you lose your virginity
New research suggests there's more to your first time than we originally thought. Now, scientists have honed in on regions of the genome that appear to play a role in influencing when people first have intercourse, as well as when they go through puberty and have their first child. Societal and family factors still outweigh genetic factors, researchers say, so teenagers who are genetically predisposed to have sex earlier won't if their parents don't let them out of the house or if they are committed to abstinence. In contrast, adolescents who are biologically inclined to wait could have sex earlier in the face of peer pressure. But John Perry, a University of Cambridge geneticist and a senior author on a paper published Monday in Nature Genetics, said DNA plays more of a role than people assume. If some people have sex at 15 years old and others wait until 20, genetics account for 25 percent of that difference, Perry said. "It's one of those things that people think is completely choice," Perry said. "Sure, choice has a massive role in this, but there are biological and genetic factors, too."

4-19-16 Pieces of Homo naledi story continue to puzzle
Pieces of Homo naledi story continue to puzzle
Age, place on hominid family tree, how fossils ended up in hard-to-reach cave remain unknown. Homo naledi fossils were found in South Africa’s Dinaledi Chamber. Researchers debate whether this species dropped its dead through a shaft into the underground space, creating the array of bones shown on the chamber floor. One of the biggest mysteries: H. naledi’s age. Efforts are under way to date the fossils and sediment from which they were excavated with a variety of techniques, said paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. An initial age estimate may come later this year if different dating techniques converge on a consistent figure. A solid date for the fossils is essential for deciphering their place in Homo evolution and how the bones came to rest in a nearly inaccessible cave.

4-19-16 Why super-gonorrhoea is spreading and may soon be untreatable
Why super-gonorrhoea is spreading and may soon be untreatable
England’s public health agency has launched an “incident response” because it has discovered more cases of gonorrhoea that are resistant to nearly all antibiotics. Gonorrhoea, also known as “the clap”, was largely controlled by antibiotics after the second world war. But the bacteria readily acquire genes for resisting drugs, and by 2012, the World Health Organization warned that strains of the infection were appearing that resisted nearly all classes of antibiotics.

4-18-16 38 genes influence when you lose your virginity. But so what?
38 genes influence when you lose your virginity. But so what?
A genetic study has found areas of the genome linked with the age at which people have sex for the first time. What should we make of it. In many Western countries the average age is about 16. In the mid-19th-century (1850), the average age girls in the US first had periods was 18. By 1980, it had fallen to 12 where it seems to have levelled off. Wait, what? We’ve found the virginity gene? So if parents had their child’s genome sequenced it could predict when they might first have sex? What would those other factors be? But isn’t it surprising that genes have any influence at all? When do most people first have sex? Hasn’t the average age of puberty been falling too? Is it the end of the world if children are having sex earlier, as long as it’s consenting?

4-18-16 Dinosaurs 'in decline' 50 million years before asteroid strike
Dinosaurs 'in decline' 50 million years before asteroid strike
The dinosaurs were already in decline 50 million years before the asteroid strike that finally wiped them out, a study suggests. A team suggests the creatures were in long-term decline because they could not cope with the ways Earth was changing. Researchers analysed the fossil remains of dinosaurs from the point they emerged 231 million years ago up to the point they went extinct. To begin with, new species evolved at an explosive rate. But things started to slow about 160 million years ago, leading to a decline in the number of species which commences at about 120 million years ago. (Webmaster's comment: The dinosaurs were less adaptable to the very slowly cooling environment. The mammals were more adaptable and very slowly replacing them over millions of years.)

4-15-16 Gene-edited mushroom doesn’t need regulation, USDA says
Gene-edited mushroom doesn’t need regulation, USDA says
A gene-edited version of edible Agaricus bisporus mushrooms (unedited mushroom shown) doesn’t need to be regulated as a genetically modified crop, agriculture officials say. A mushroom whose genes have been edited with molecular scissors known as CRISPR/Cas9 doesn’t need to be regulated like other genetically modified crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said April 13 in a letter to the mushroom’s creator. The edible fungus is the first CRISPR-edited crop to clear USDA regulation. Yinong Yang, a plant pathologist at Penn State University, used CRISPR/Cas9 to snip out a tiny bit of one gene from the mushroom Agaricus bisporus. The edit reduces browning when the mushroom is sliced. Because the gene editing left no foreign DNA behind, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined that the mushroom poses no risk to other plants and is not likely to become a weed. Yang says he plans to submit data about the mushroom to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA clearance isn’t required but, says Yang, “we’re not just going to start marketing these mushrooms without FDA approval.”

4-15-16 Cow’s milk has vital prebiotic for a healthy baby’s microbiome
Cow’s milk has vital prebiotic for a healthy baby’s microbiome
Cow's milk prebiotic could be used to soup up baby formula, and encourage the growth of essential gut bacteria in infants. Mum’s breast may be best, but cow’s milk could provide a cheap and ready source of key prebiotics for a healthy baby gut microbiome. The compounds could be incorporated into infant formula. A mother’s breast milk is a wonder drink for a newborn. We know it contains a whole host of beneficial components, including antibodies that protect a baby from disease, and the fats, proteins and vitamins essential for a baby’s development. It also contains oligosaccharides – carbohydrates recently found to behave like prebiotics, and that encourage the growth of a baby’s gut bacteria. It’s important to get gut bacterial growth right. A baby’s first collection of bacteria is thought to affect which other microbial species are able to make a home in their gut. Allowing the wrong bugs to dominate can put a person at risk of developing all sorts of disorders, including obesity and even Parkinson’s disease.

4-15-16 We are zombies rewriting our mental history to feel in control
We are zombies rewriting our mental history to feel in control
Ever thought you have an uncanny knack of predicting events? It's probably down to shortcomings in the human brain. Bad news for believers in clairvoyance. Our brains appear to rewrite history so that the choices we make after an event seem to precede it. In other words, we add loops to our mental timeline that let us feel we can predict things that in reality have already happened. Adam Bear and Paul Bloom at Yale University conducted some simple tests on volunteers. In one experiment, subjects looked at white circles and silently guessed which one would turn red. Once one circle had changed colour, they reported whether or not they had predicted correctly. Over many trials, their reported accuracy was significantly better than the 20 per cent expected by chance, indicating that the volunteers either had psychic abilities or had unwittingly played a mental trick on themselves. (Webmaster's comment: Relying on verbal reports is not an objective measure. A bad test for anything, except maybe for how many unconsciously or deliberately are skewing results.)

4-14-16 Trees share vital goodies through a secret underground network
Trees share vital goodies through a secret underground network
For the first time we've seen mature wild trees sharing carbon via their roots, and it turns out they share a lot more than we previously thought. Call it the wood wide web. Although we think of trees as competing with each other for resources, we know from lab studies that they share information and nutrients underground.Trees of the same species growing close together will sometimes fuse their roots and exchange materials. And seedlings of different species can share nutrients via mycorrhiza, the symbiotic fungi that grow alongside and between tree roots. Now botanist Tamir Klein and his colleagues at the University of Basel in Switzerland have spotted this transfer in mature wild trees for the first time. And it turns out they share much more than anyone guessed. The trees were sharing a huge amount – around 40 per cent of the carbon in any given root came from a neighbouring tree. This means that, in a single hectare of forest, the trees must be swapping around 280 kilograms of carbon a year, equivalent to 4 per cent of the forest’s total carbon uptake. And it was a two-way street – carbon didn’t flow solely from trees with too much to those that needed more, but instead mixed freely back and forth.

4-13-16 Bed bugs' thick skins beat insecticide
Bed bugs' thick skins beat insecticide
Bed bugs might be developing thicker "skins" to help them survive exposure to common insecticides. Human population growth and international travel have helped the bug become a source of irritation in hotel rooms around the world. Insecticides are the most common way to kill them, but they have rapidly developed resistance.

4-13-16 Rain makers: How high-flying bacteria could control the clouds
Rain makers: How high-flying bacteria could control the clouds
Microbes in the clouds seem able to hijack the weather for their own good, summoning drizzle and downpours. Can we use them to control where rain falls? Once inside the clouds, Sands reached out of the window, Petri dish in hand – and there it was. He had collared his suspect. Not only that, he came to believe that his discovery would solve the long-standing mystery of what makes it rain. Sands’s proposal that drizzle and downpours are summoned by microbes living in the clouds didn’t go down well with atmospheric scientists. They were focused on dust particles and soot, and weren’t about to listen to a plant pathologist. But discoveries in the past few years are making it look as if he was on to something. It now seems as if the skies are teeming with microbial life, and recent sorties into the clouds have returned evidence that specialist bacteria do indeed turn the dial to Downpour. There are even hints that some of the worst droughts in recent history were made by humans disrupting the delicate balance between bacteria and plants. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution is always working and life is everywhere!)

4-13-16 First evidence that sperm epigenetics affect the next generation
First evidence that sperm epigenetics affect the next generation
A frog study provides the strongest evidence yet that a father’s lifestyle may affect the next generation, via chemical tags that change gene activity. SPERM pass on more than just their DNA. Chemical switches attached to the genomes of sperm – known as epigenetic tags – have been shown to alter the next generation for the first time. The discovery could explain how a father’s experiences may later affect gene activity in their offspring, a vital step towards improving health and fertility. Throughout life, our environment changes the activity of our genes, switching them on or off without altering DNA. It does this by epigenetics – adding or removing regulatory chemical tags. Both smoking and diet can alter which genes are tagged in this way, and epigenetic changes have also been linked to cancer. “The implication is that a father’s experiences might affect their offspring’s characteristics.”

4-11-16 Some people are resistant to genetic disease
Some people are resistant to genetic disease
Among half a million people, lucky 13 found with mutations but no symptoms. Some rare people have the power to overcome genetic diseases even though they carry mutations that should make them sick. Researchers discovered 13 such people after examining DNA and medical information from more than 500,000. The genetic “superheroes” don’t know they’re special; researchers don’t have permission to contact the lucky 13 and tell them about their powers. Some people can evade diseases even though they carry genetic mutations that cause serious problems for others. Researchers found 13 of these genetic escape artists after examining DNA from nearly 600,000 people, the scientists report online April 11 in Nature Biotechnology. Learning how such people dodge genetic bullets may help move inherited-disease research from diagnosis to prevention.

4-11-16 'Superhero DNA' keeps diseases at bay
'Superhero DNA' keeps diseases at bay
Some people appear to be born with 'superhero DNA' that cancels out genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, say researchers. The study of nearly 600,000 people found 13 who should have developed debilitating diseases, but did not. The hope is discovering what, against the odds, keeps them healthy and if that could lead to new therapies.

4-11-16 Lemur extinctions in Madagascar leave behind doomed orphan trees
Lemur extinctions in Madagascar leave behind doomed orphan trees
Past extinctions have left tree species with no way to spread their seeds. If the island's critically endangered lemurs disappear, whole forests may follow. Alas, the koala lemur is long gone. Its three species were the giants of the Madagascan forests, each the size of a gorilla, but died out half a millennium ago. Other large lemurs, like the sloth lemur and monkey lemur, have met a similar fate, leaving in their wake a host of orphan tree species that now have no animals to disperse their seeds in droppings. With more of the island’s lemurs critically endangered, increasing swathes of Madagascar’s unique flora are living on borrowed time. Madagascar is one of the planet’s great biodiversity hotspots, with numerous species, including lemurs and trees, that are found nowhere else. (Webmaster's comment: All life is interrelated. Every species depends on many others. Something most humans have yet to acknowledge. We have over 10,000 species of bacteria living in and on us. We are the host for what keeps us alive. If the bacteria were to die so would we.)

4-11-16 First LSD brain imaging study offers insights into consciousness
First LSD brain imaging study offers insights into consciousness
Scans reveal effects of the drug that correlate with ego dissolution, giving clues to how the brain creates a sense of self. Almost three-quarters of a century after chemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD and experienced its mind-expanding effects, brain imaging has given researchers their first glimpse of how it causes its profound effects on consciousness. One of the most notable aspects of the psychedelic experience is a phenomenon known as the dissolution of the ego, in which users feel somehow detached from themselves. Studying how the normally stable sense of self gets disrupted can tell us how neural mechanisms create this integral part of the human experience. “This is why psychedelics in general but also LSD are special. They really alter consciousness in this fundamental way and therefore they are very powerful tools to understand the nature of consciousness,” says Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, who carried out the new study.

4-8-16 Researchers edit genes in human embryos for second time
Researchers edit genes in human embryos for second time
Researchers in China have edited the genes of human embryos to make cells resistant to HIV infection. It’s the second reported case of using molecular scissors called CRISPR/Cas9 to alter genes in human embryos. In the new work, published April 6 in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, the researchers snipped a gene called CCR5 to introduce a mutation that prevents HIV from entering cells. Just as in the first report, the researchers used embryos that have three copies of each chromosome and would not grow into a baby if implanted in a uterus.

4-8-16 Extreme morning sickness? You’re less likely to have a boy
Extreme morning sickness? You’re less likely to have a boy
An extreme form of morning sickness may shift the sex ratio towards girls. Could this be an evolutionary strategy to help us adapt to tough times? Women who suffer extreme morning sickness may be less likely to give birth to sons. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) involves severe vomiting – sometimes up to 50 times a day – and its causes are unknown. Kate Middleton suffered from it during both of her pregnancies. Now a study of 1.65 million pregnancies in Sweden has found that less well-educated women are more likely to develop HG, and that women who develop HG are more likely to have daughters. Using education level as an indicator of someone’s social and financial status, Lena Edlund of Columbia University in New York and her team found that women who left school at 16 were 76 per cent more likely to develop HG than women who went on to attain masters or PhD degrees. “The team do not know the genders of these miscarried pregnancies. But if more were male, this could back up an old evolutionary idea. First proposed in 1973, the Trivers-Willard hypothesis suggests that when times are good, it is best to have a son; but in tough times, a daughter is the safest bet. The reasoning behind this theory is that in many species, strong males try to monopolise females, while weaker males don’t stand a chance of passing on their genes. If a mother is in poor health or food is scarce – or perhaps if her socioeconomic status is low – her newborn son might fail to find a partner and pass on her genes to the next generation.

4-8-16 Complex sugars cooked up from 'comet ice'
Complex sugars cooked up from 'comet ice'
Scientists have detected ribose - a sugar needed to make RNA and DNA - in laboratory experiments which simulate the very early Solar System. They shone UV light on a simple, frozen mixture of chemicals mimicking the ices that form in space, between stars. As it condensed and then warmed up, the ice produced "substantial quantities" of ribose, alongside other molecules. Published in Science, the research is the first to show that sugars can be produced in such a simple way.

4-8-16 DNA points to Neanderthal breeding barrier
DNA points to Neanderthal breeding barrier
Incompatibilities in the DNA of Neanderthals and modern humans may have limited the impact of interbreeding between the two groups. It's now widely known that many modern humans carry up to 4% Neanderthal DNA. But a new analysis of the Neanderthal Y chromosome, the package of genes passed down from fathers to sons, shows it is missing from modern populations. The team found differences in immunity genes on the Neanderthal Y chromosome that could have led to miscarriages.

4-7-16 Missing Y chromosome kept us apart from Neanderthals
Missing Y chromosome kept us apart from Neanderthals
An analysis of a Neanderthal Y chromosome suggests human hybrids containing it would have been unviable, and explain why it is not found in modern humans. Modern humans diverged from Neanderthals some 600,000 years ago – and a new study shows the Y chromosome might be what kept the two species separate. It seems we were genetically incompatible with our ancient relatives – and male fetuses conceived through sex with Neanderthal males would have miscarried. We knew that some cross-breeding between us and Neanderthals happened more recently – around 100,000 to 60,000 years ago.

4-7-16 Key sugar needed for life could have formed in space
Key sugar needed for life could have formed in space
RNA’s ribose found in interstellar ices made in lab. Joni Mitchell was right: We are stardust. Another one of the essential ingredients for life as we know it might have formed in space and then rained down on a young Earth, researchers suggest in the April 8 Science. The simple sugar ribose — a crucial piece of the molecular machinery inside cells — can form on a blend of ices that have been blasted with ultraviolet radiation, chemist Cornelia Meinert of the University Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and colleagues report. These ices are common to comets and are thought to coat grains of interstellar dust that swirl around young stars.

4-7-16 Missing building block of life could be made on ice in space
Missing building block of life could be made on ice in space
Many of the things needed for life to get started have been found on meteorites or comets. Now we've worked out how to make one of the more elusive ingredients. The search for life in space just got a little sweeter. In the early solar system, ice grains hit by sunlight may have formed sugar molecules on their surfaces, according to a new experiment. Those sugars include ribose: the backbone of RNA, which is implicated in the origin of life.

4-7-16 Using tiny predators to tackle agricultural pests
Using tiny predators to tackle agricultural pests
Amblyseius cucumeris may have a posh name, but it is a total thug. A tiny mite, just 0.5mm long, it is a fearsome predator. It eats a type of insect called thrips. These are small winged insects that generally feed on plants. Thrips are a major agricultural pest around the world, and can damage whole fields of crops, literally sucking the life out of them. But introduce amblyseius cucumeris and you have a bloodbath and then no thrips.

4-6-16 The truth about migration: How evolution made us xenophobes
The truth about migration: How evolution made us xenophobes
Multicultural societies are more harmonious and successful, but to make them work we must fight our evolved tendencies to mistrust migrants. All the evidence suggests that migrants boost economic growth. So why don’t we just fly people who want to work to countries where there are jobs and welcome them with open arms? Prejudices rooted in humanity’s evolutionary past may be partly to blame. “Perceptions of competition drive a lot of our thinking and are difficult to avoid,” says Victoria Esses at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Humans think of their support systems as a zero-sum game – so if one person gains, another must lose out. Such perceptions were accurate during our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers when the appearance of others on our patch meant fewer mastodons or mushrooms for us. If they were close relatives they might share – or at least our common genes would benefit from their success. But anyone displaying different cultural markers was likely to be a competitor. A modern capitalist economy is not a zero-sum game – if you add more workers, it grows (see main story). Regardless of this, our evolutionary hang-ups make it difficult to accept the economic sense in welcoming immigrants.

4-6-16 The truth about migration: We’re a stay-at-home species
The truth about migration: We’re a stay-at-home species
Tales of moving to new countries are central to religions and family histories, yet even with no barriers to migration, most people choose not to move. Humans have always migrated. Our species started as African apes and now covers the planet. Tales of migration are central to our religions, our literature and our family histories. And migration is at the heart of modern life. I am a migrant. You may be too. Some 38 per cent of scientists working in the US and 33 per cent in the UK are foreign-born. Yet they may be exceptions to an ancient rule: in fact, few people migrate. And when we do, often it’s because we feel we have no other option. Humans have always migrated. Our species started as African apes and now covers the planet. Tales of migration are central to our religions, our literature and our family histories. And migration is at the heart of modern life. I am a migrant. You may be too. Some 38 per cent of scientists working in the US and 33 per cent in the UK are foreign-born. Yet they may be exceptions to an ancient rule: in fact, few people migrate. And when we do, often it’s because we feel we have no other option.

4-6-16 Surfing Uncertainty: Do our dynamic brains predict the world?
Surfing Uncertainty: Do our dynamic brains predict the world?
Andy Clark’s masterly book overturns traditional views about our brains, arguing they make internal models of reality which they then compare with incoming data. Were Einstein alive today, he might be amazed at his own prescience. Modern neuroscience seems to agree with him, as it struggles to explain how 1400 grams of gelatinous stuff in a bony skull creates an inner world. “The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action,” writes Andy Clark in his new book, Surfing Uncertainty. “But there is an emerging clue.” The clue is prediction. As Einstein surmised, our brains do indeed seem first to construct forms in order to find them in the world outside. Our bodies are constantly being bombarded by sensations. Our brains have to make sense of that chaotic, often uncertain input, and they do so every moment by making predictions, or educated guesses, about what might be generating the signals impinging on us. How that leads to perception, action and an embodied mind comprises the “predictive processing story”, synthesised in delicious detail in Clark’s book.

4-6-16 Lip-readers ‘hear’ silent words
Lip-readers ‘hear’ silent words
Brain’s listening area similarly active when interpreting mouthed, audible stories. Lip-readers’ minds seem to “hear” the words their eyes see being formed. And the better a person is at lipreading, the more neural activity there is in the brain’s auditory cortex, scientists reported April 4 at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society.

4-6-16 People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD
People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD
Such exceptional power of recall is known as highly superior autobiographical memory, a term coined by neurobiologist James McGaugh at the University of California, Irvine. He and his colleagues have now performed a barrage of tests on 20 people with HSAM to see what cognitive processes might be critical to their memory. The tests probed areas like verbal fluency, pattern memorisation and the ability to remember people’s faces and jobs. Surprisingly, the results suggest that no particular ability underpins HSAM. People with HSAM scored only slightly better, and in only a few tests, than a control group of similar age. (Webmaster's comment: Our brains have have evolved to efficently remember what we most need to survive. Total recall is mostly a waste and not required.)

4-6-16 Invasive earthworms threaten growth of new North American trees
Invasive earthworms threaten growth of new North American trees
Earthworms may be good for gardens, but they can wreak havoc on forests adapted to life without them – by consuming seeds, altering the abundance of plants. An invading horde is spreading across the northern forests of North America, gobbling seeds and altering forest ecosystems as it goes. Who are these marauding horrors? Humble earthworms. Despite their reputation as a gardener’s friend and contributor to soil fertility, these earthworms aren’t natives. The native earthworms were wiped out by glaciers during the last ice age, so the northern part of the US and Canada has probably been earthworm free for tens of thousands of years and every earthworm now living there is in fact an invader, usually from Europe. The worms can cause dramatic changes to ecosystems by altering soils, reducing leaf litter and disrupting microbial interactions, which reduces biodiversity. Now it seems they are also eating plant seeds in the wild, potentially altering the make-up of forest communities.

4-5-16 Gene therapy gets approval for ‘bubble kids’ in world first
Gene therapy gets approval for ‘bubble kids’ in world first
A genetic therapy that lasts for years has been approved to treat a potentially fatal immune disorder that makes children need to be isolated from infection. Until now the only commercial treatment for the condition has been a bone marrow transplant, and many die before a donor is found. But last week, a gene therapy to treat it was rubber-stamped for approval by a committee of the European Medicines Agency, potentially giving all patients in Europe access to a treatment that enables them to build lifelong immune systems with the help of transplanted genes. The outcome has been hailed as a triumph for gene therapy after decades of high-profile setbacks.

4-5-16 Insomnia could be caused by loose connections in the brain
Insomnia could be caused by loose connections in the brain
Scanning the brains of people with severe insomnia has shown that the white matter bundles connecting brain regions could be to blame for the condition. f you’re one of the 5 per cent of the population who has severe insomnia – trouble sleeping for more than a month – then your brain’s white matter might be to blame. The cell bodies and synapses of our brain cells make up our brain’s grey matter, while bundles of their tails that connect one brain region to another make up the white matter. These nerve cell tails – axons – are cloaked in a fatty myelin sheath that helps transmit signals. Radiologist Shumei Li from Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People’s Hospital in Guangzhou, China, and her team, scanned the brains of 30 healthy sleepers and 23 people with severe insomnia using diffusion tensor imaging MRI. This imaging technique lights up the white matter circuitry. (Webmaster's comment: Cutting-edge research from China.)

4-5-16 Hippocampus makes maps of social space, too
Hippocampus makes maps of social space, too
Brain structure tracking known physical locations also monitors other relationships. Nerve cells in the hippocampus may help people navigate through social space, a study suggests. Cells in a brain structure known as the hippocampus are known to be cartographers, drawing mental maps of physical space. But new studies show that this seahorse-shaped hook of neural tissue can also keep track of social space, auditory space and even time, deftly mapping these various types of information into their proper places. “The hippocampus is an organizer,” says neuroscientist Howard Eichenbaum of Boston University.

4-4-16 How did evil evolve, and why does it persist?
How did evil evolve, and why does it persist?
'Evil' behaviours can be categorised into four basic groups – and they are far from being unique to our species. These days, the word ‘evil’ has religious connotations. It’s tied up with morality and transgressions against the will of a divine being. But in its original Old English it meant anything that was simply bad, vicious or cruel. Assuming we stick to this broader non-religious definition – that evil involves acting in a malevolent way – it’s reasonable to ask why it came into existence. We know that humans evolved from apes and, ultimately, from much simpler animals. That means we get many of our behaviours from our animal ancestors. Does this include evil behaviours – and if it does, is this because being evil is advantageous in some scenarios?

4-4-16 Forgetting can be hard work for your brain
Forgetting can be hard work for your brain
Neural activity higher when told to erase image from mind rather than remember it. Sometimes forgetting can be harder than remembering. When people forced themselves to forget a recently seen image, select brain activity was higher than when they tried to remember that image. Forgetting is often a passive process, one in which the memory slips out of the brain, Tracy Wang of the University of Texas at Austin said April 2 at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. But in some cases, forgetting can be deliberate.

4-4-16 Ants’ antennae both send and receive chemical signals
Ants’ antennae both send and receive chemical signals
Ant antennae don’t just receive chemical signals — they send them, too. Colonies of ants communicate through chemical cues produced all over their bodies. Studies have shown that ants use their antennae to identify their own nest-mates and potential invaders. But antennae also produce the key compounds that ants use to tell friend from foe,

4-4-16 Bizarre fossil hauled its offspring around 'like kites'
Bizarre fossil hauled its offspring around 'like kites'
A 430 million-year-old sea creature apparently dragged its offspring around on strings like kites - a baffling habit not seen anywhere else in the animal kingdom. Scientists who discovered the fossil have dubbed it the "kite runner". Ten capsules tethered to its back appear to contain juvenile progeny, all at different stages of development.

4-3-16 How your brain picks the right word: The 'cat' and 'dog' battle
How your brain picks the right word: The 'cat' and 'dog' battle
The average English-speaker has about 50,000 words in their mind. But how do they find the right one in 600 milliseconds? A Bangor University expert believes the constant battle for prominence between words like "cat" and "dog" could help to explain. Dr Gary Oppenheim, of the university's Language Production Lab, is working to reveal the "algorithms and architectures" behind vocabulary.

4-3-16 How evolution is making our wisdom teeth disappear
How evolution is making our wisdom teeth disappear
A new mathematical formula explains why we have certain teeth — and predicts that we'll soon lose our wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are more than just an annoyance — if they become impacted, they can cause gum disease and eventually shove the rest of your pearly whites out of your mouth at embarrassing angles. So why do we have them? Each of our teeth has a mathematical formula that guides its growth, which gradually changes as humans evolve, according to a recent study in the journal Nature. But the formula behind wisdom teeth is only now catching up with the rest of our mouth. When it does, the study suggests, humanity will eventually evolve its way out of wisdom teeth entirely. (Webmaster's comment: Don't plan for it happening soon. Give it another hundred thousand or a million years or so and they will be gone.)

4-1-16 Toxic form of tau protein foils memory formation in Alzheimer’s
Toxic form of tau protein foils memory formation in Alzheimer’s
Study in mice provides a mechanism for how the notorious protein stops neurons from strengthening their connections – and how we form memories. The mystery is starting to untangle. It has long been known that twisted fibres of a protein called tau collect in the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s, but their exact role in the disease is unclear. Now a study in mice has shown how tau interferes with the strengthening of connections between neurons – the key mechanism by which we form memories. In healthy cells, the tau protein helps to stabilise microtubules that act as rails for transporting materials around the cell. In people with Alzheimer’s, these proteins become toxic, but an important unanswered question is what forms of tau are toxic: the tangles may not be the whole story.

4-1-16 People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD
People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD
DA handful of people can recall every day of their lives, perhaps because they accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually dwelling on the past. Although most of us remember only snapshots of our past, a select few people remember every day as if it were yesterday. Two new studies attempt to establish just what underlies this extraordinary power of recollection. The results could eventually help people with anxiety and depression, and help us all remember our past a little easier.

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