125 Evolution News Articles
for October 2016
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
10-31-16 'Bionic' plants can detect explosives
'Bionic' plants can detect explosives
By embedding tiny tubes in the plants' leaves, they can be made to pick up chemicals called nitro-aromatics, which are found in landmines and other buried munitions. Real-time information can then be wirelessly relayed to a handheld device. The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) work is published in the journal Nature Materials.
10-31-16 Carbon nanotubes turn spinach plants into a living bomb detector
Carbon nanotubes turn spinach plants into a living bomb detector
Spinach plants with added nanotubes can detect explosive molecules in the soil around them and raise the alarm. There’s something odd in the water – a slight taste of a landmine nearby. You won’t notice it, but nanotech-enhanced spinach plants certainly can. A group of MIT engineers led by Michael Strano has converted ordinary spinach plants into biological bomb detectors. The engineers implanted customised carbon nanotubes into the leaves of living plants to turn them into a real-time monitoring system for explosive molecules. When the plants suck water from the ground into the leaves, the carbon nanotubes can detect the presence of any nitroaromatics – chemical compounds often found in explosives such as landmines. When the researchers shine a laser on the nanotubes, they emit a fluorescent signal if they pick up nitroaromatics. This signal can be detected by an infrared camera up to a metre away.
10-31-16 The secret of how life on Earth began
The secret of how life on Earth began
Today life has conquered every square inch of Earth, but when the planet formed it was a dead rock. How did life get started? How did life begin? There can hardly be a bigger question. For much of human history, almost everyone believed some version of "the gods did it". Any other explanation was inconceivable. That is no longer true. Over the last century, a few scientists have tried to figure out how the first life might have sprung up. They have even tried to recreate this Genesis moment in their labs: to create brand-new life from scratch. So far nobody has managed it, but we have come a long way. Today, many of the scientists studying the origin of life are confident that they are on the right track – and they have the experiments to back up their confidence.
10-31-16 Learning curve not so smooth
Learning curve not so smooth
Preschoolers often achieve mind reading milestone in fits and starts. Preschoolers take a variety of paths in the course of learning that others can have errant beliefs, such as assuming a toy is in a basket when it has been moved to a box, a new study finds. Kids often go back and forth in displaying this type of social knowledge rather than following a smooth learning curve. Many preschoolers take a surprisingly long and bumpy mental path to the realization that people can have mistaken beliefs — say, thinking that a ball is in a basket when it has secretly been moved to a toy box. Traditional learning curves, in which kids gradually move from knowing nothing to complete understanding, don’t apply to this landmark social achievement and probably to many other types of learning, a new study concludes. Kids ranging in age from 3 to 5 often go back and forth between passing and failing false-belief tests for several months to more than one year, say psychologist Sara Baker of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues. A small minority of youngsters jump quickly from always failing to always passing these tests, the scientists report October 20 in Cognitive Psychology.
10-31-16 First known fossilized dinosaur brain unearthed, scientists claim
First known fossilized dinosaur brain unearthed, scientists claim
Fall into swamp probably helped preserve tissue. Dinosaur smarts may be a mystery, but their brains, at least, are now more concrete. A chunk of petrified brain tissue discovered in a tidal pool in southern England is the first reported from a dinosaur, researchers claim. The roughly 133-million-year-old fossil preserves the brain’s wrinkled topology, said paleontologist David Norman, who presented the find October 27 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
10-31-16 The venom of one of world's deadliest snakes could relieve pain, say scientists
The venom of one of world's deadliest snakes could relieve pain, say scientists
A snake with the largest venom glands in the world could hold the answer to pain relief, scientists have found. Dubbed the "killer of killers", the long-glanded blue coral snake is known to prey on the likes of king cobras. Venom from the 2m-long (6ft 6in) snake native to South East Asia acts "almost immediately" and causes prey to spasm. New research published in the journal Toxin found it targets receptors which are critical to pain in humans and could be used as a method of treatment.
10-31-16 Riding roller coasters might help dislodge kidney stones
Riding roller coasters might help dislodge kidney stones
Preliminary study uses fake kidney to test the idea. After patients reported that they passed kidney stones after riding on roller coasters, researchers decided to see for themselves. Passing a kidney stone is not exactly rocket science, but it could get a boost from Space Mountain. It seems that shaking, twisting and diving from on high could help small stones dislodge themselves from the kidney’s inner maze of tubules. Or so say two researchers who rode the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., 20 times with a fake kidney tucked inside a backpack. A fossilized chunk of bone and brain belonged to an herbivorous dinosaur that lived roughly 133-million-years ago.
10-29-16 Picture of primate common ancestor coming into focus
Picture of primate common ancestor coming into focus
New family tree analysis points to nocturnal, rodent-sized, tree-climbing critter. By examining the behavior and ecology of modern primates from across the primate family tree, researchers hypothesized aspects of the earliest primate’s lifestyle. The earliest primate was a tiny, solitary tree dweller that liked the night life. Those are just some conclusions from new reconstructions of the primate common ancestor, presented October 27 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Eva Hoffman, now a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues at Yale University looked at behavioral and ecological data from 178 modern primate species. Examining patterns of traits across the primate family tree, the researchers inferred the most likely characteristics of ancestors at different branching points in the tree — all the way back to the common ancestor. This ancient primate, which may have lived some 80 million to 70 million years ago, was probably no bigger than a guinea pig, lived alone and gave birth to one offspring at a time, the researchers suggest. Living in trees and active at night, the critter probably ventured out to the ends of tree branches to eat fruits, leaves and insects.
10-28-16 Lightbulb made of modified E. coli fuses biology and electronics
Lightbulb made of modified E. coli fuses biology and electronics
A team from the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition has made an electronic circuit with biological components using modified bacteria. It could soon be possible to make a light source out of bacteria. So says a group of students from Newcastle University in the UK who are attempting to combine electronic engineering and synthetic biology to create “electro-biological” circuits. The students have turned genetically modified, glowing E.coli into something analogous to a light bulb. The bulb is meant to switch on when the bacteria experience heat stress from a miniature microbial fuel cell – a device that acts as a battery by harnessing electrical energy from the action of microbes. The project will debut in Boston this week at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM), an annual global competition that ends in a synthetic biology science fair called the Giant Jamboree. The eight-person team from Newcastle is just one of 300 teams from 40 countries. To make their device, the Newcastle team designed E.coli that, due to the increased expression of a fluorescent gene, would glow when introduced to an electrical current or a heat source at 42 °C. They also designed a circuit to connect the bulb and the power source in the hopes of creating a kit that can snap together as easily as a Lego set.
10-28-16 How lack of oxygen makes bacteria cause acne and how to stop it
How lack of oxygen makes bacteria cause acne and how to stop it
When deprived of oxygen, harmless bacteria on the skin can turn nasty, triggering inflammation and pimples – a discovery that makes a new treatment look likely. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde. One moment bacteria on the skin are harmless, the next they are causing a full-on spotty break out. Now researchers have discovered exactly why this happens – a breakthrough that could yield new acne treatments, possibly in two years. Richard Gallo of the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues have discovered that a harmless bacterium that lives on the surface of the skin can turn nasty, triggering inflammation and zits, when it finds itself trapped in airless, oily conditions like those found in hair follicles.
10-28-16 Early birds could achieve liftoff
Early birds could achieve liftoff
Gliding from trees wasn’t necessary for flight evolution, analysis suggests. The four-winged dinosaur Microraptor could launch itself into the air and didn’t need to glide from tree to tree, a new fossil analysis suggests. Flying dinosaurs took off from the ground — no leap from the trees required.Ancient birds and some nonavian dinosaurs used their wings and powerful legs to launch themselves into the air, a new analysis of 51 winged dinos suggests. Paleontologist Michael Habib of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles reported the findings October 26 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. “That’s a big deal, because the classic idea was that early birds started out gliding between trees,” says Yale ornithologist Michael Hanson.
10-28-16 Eggs grown from stem cells
Eggs grown from stem cells
In a development that could lead to a breakthrough in infertility treatment, Japanese scientists have successfully fertilized mouse eggs made entirely from stem cells. Researchers at Kyushu University used cells from female mouse tails to grow pluripotent stem cells, which can be used anywhere in the body. To encourage these cells to develop into eggs, the team placed them among tissues taken from the ovaries of mouse fetuses. They then fertilized the mature eggs using sperm from male mice, and implanted them into the uteruses of female mice. The birth rate was very low: Just eight healthy pups were born from the 1,348 embryos used. But the success of the procedure suggests it may one day be possible for doctors to create viable human eggs from the skin cells of an infertile woman, reports NewScientist.com. “From a technical point of view it could work,” says lead researcher Katsuhiko Hayashi. “It could be a very powerful tool for curing infertility.” In theory, the process could also be used to create eggs from male skin cells—raising the prospect of children with two genetic fathers.
10-28-16 Fruity or fermented? Algorithm predicts how molecules smell
Fruity or fermented? Algorithm predicts how molecules smell
A centuries-old challenge has been solved: using a molecule's structure to predict its odour. The discovery could ease the way we create perfumes and flavours. It’s not something to be sniffed at. Computers have cracked a problem that has stumped chemists for centuries: predicting a molecule’s odour from its structure. The feat may allow perfumers and flavour specialists to create new products with much less trial and error. Unlike vision and hearing, the result of which can be predicted by analysing wavelengths of light or sound, our sense of smell has long remained inscrutable. Olfactory chemists have never been able to predict how a given molecule will smell, except in a few special cases, because so many aspects of a molecule’s structure could be important in determining its odour.
10-28-16 Last-ditch effort to save the world’s smallest porpoise agreed
Last-ditch effort to save the world’s smallest porpoise agreed
Critically endangered vaquitas are set for greater protection and Japan’s “scientific” whaling faces scrutiny thanks to international agreements. The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, may be saved from extinction thanks to measures agreed yesterday at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission. Unique to the Gulf of California, this iconic animal has seen its numbers collapse from 567 individuals in 1997 to just 59 in 2015. The main reason is that they get accidentally caught and drowned in gill nets spread out to illegally catch totoaba fish, whose swim bladders are prized in Chinese medicine. Now, new measures will oblige the Mexican government to enforce gill-net bans throughout the range of the vaquita, also known as the “panda of the sea”. Likewise, efforts will be strengthened to eliminate the illegal trade in swim bladders from totoaba, and increase funding for vaquita monitoring programmes. “It’s not too late for the vaquita, but it’s going to be close, with only an estimated 59 animals left,” says Matt Collis, the team leader at the meeting for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “What’s truly tragic is that this could have been entirely preventable, because we’ve long known where vaquitas live and what we need to do to protect them.”
10-28-16 Fish swims to the same nest each year just like migrating birds
Fish swims to the same nest each year just like migrating birds
Is it a bird? No, it’s a fish. The shanny returns home to the same nest every year, where it tends to its eggs before they hatch. The ocean is a big place, but one small fish finds its way back to the same nest to tend to its eggs year after year. This behaviour is reminiscent of migratory birds such as white storks or swallows. But unlike them, the fish does not migrate over long distances. Instead, it disappears for months on end from its rocky shore breeding sites along the western coasts of Europe and North Africa, travelling offshore to feed. “The most interesting thing is that they get back to the same nest or to a very close one,” says Paulo Esteves Jorge at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. “It’s surprising to see in a non-migratory species standard behaviours of a migratory one.” Male shannies (Lipophrys pholis) – which care for the eggs – were already known to return to their nests if they were artificially removed during their breeding season, from October to April. “Males show a great fidelity to the nest, being able to quickly return to it in the same year if they were taken away,” says Jorge.
10-27-16 Chimps and bonobos interbred and exchanged genes
Chimps and bonobos interbred and exchanged genes
Humans are not the only great apes to have had an ancient fling with related species. New evidence shows that chimps carry genes from bonobos. Chimpanzees and their relatives bonobos are closer than we thought. Bonobos seem to have donated genes to chimps at least twice in the roughly two million years since they last shared an ancestor. The two closely related apes have occasionally interbred in captivity, and bonobos are renowned for their free and easy sex life. But the finding that they interbred in the wild was unexpected. The two species split sometime between 1.5 and 2.1 million years ago, around the same time that the Congo River system formed. Wild bonobo populations are entirely contained in that river system, separated from two nearby subspecies of chimps, the eastern and central subspecies. Scientists assumed the river was an impenetrable barrier, says Christina Hvilsom from Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, one of the researchers who worked on the genetic project. But it turns out that it must have been breached more than once – although it’s not clear how that happened.
10-27-16 Ancient hookups gave chimps a smidge of bonobo DNA
Ancient hookups gave chimps a smidge of bonobo DNA
Genetic analysis traces previously unknown primate hybridization. Chimpanzees and bonobos interbred in the past. Genetic evidence of that mixing was found in a new study.Like lipstick on a collar, new DNA evidence is pointing to ancient affairs between bonobos and chimpanzees. Chimps carry a small percentage of bonobo DNA, researchers report in the Oct. 28 Science. The conclusion comes from analysis of the genetic instruction books, or genomes, of 63 wild-born chimps, two captive chimps named Clint and Donald, and 10 wild-born bonobos. The apes came from 10 African countries. Although chimps (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) became separate species 1.6 million to 2 million years ago, they are still closely related enough to interbreed occasionally.
10-27-16 Brown pebble turns out to be first ever pickled dinosaur brain
Brown pebble turns out to be first ever pickled dinosaur brain
The petrified specimen comes from a large plant eater such as Iguanodon, which lived about 133 million years ago, and whose brain was pickled in mud after it died. A “brown pebble” spotted by a fossil hunter in Sussex more than a decade ago has been confirmed as the first known example of petrified dinosaur brain. The specimen is thought to have come from a large plant eater such as iguanodon, which lived about 133 million years ago. Scientists believe the dead dinosaur’s head was buried in mud at the bottom of a swamp, allowing its brain to be “pickled” and preserved. In time the soft tissues became mineralised. But the fossil retained distinctive features such as the meninges – a protective membrane surrounding the brain – blood vessels, collagen and structures thought to represent the outer layer of nerve cells, or cortex. A detailed study of the “pebble” has revealed similarities with the brains of present-day birds and crocodiles, both close relatives of dinosaurs.
10-27-16 Scientists need to redraw picture of cell’s biggest organelle
Scientists need to redraw picture of cell’s biggest organelle
Super-resolution microscopy reveals surprising details of endoplasmic reticulum’s architecture. Super-resolution imaging of the endoplasmic reticulum, a multifaceted organelle within the cell, shows that it’s a tangled web of interconnected tubes, instead of containing flat sheets as previously believed. Textbook drawings of the cell’s largest organelle might need to be updated based on new images. Super-resolution shots of the endoplasmic reticulum reveal tightly packed tubes where previous pictures showed plain flat sheets, scientists report in the Oct. 28 Science. The finding helps explain how the endoplasmic reticulum, or ER, reshapes itself in response to changing conditions, says study coauthor Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, a cell biologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va.
10-27-16 Gut instinct drives battery boost
Gut instinct drives battery boost
Scientists have designed a new prototype battery that mimics the structure of the human intestines. It's a type of battery called lithium-sulphur, which - in theory - could have five times the energy density of the lithium-ion forms in wide use today. But the prototype developed by a UK-Chinese team overcomes a key hurdle to their commercial development by taking inspiration from the gut. Details appear in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.
10-27-16 Swifts break record by staying aloft for 10 months at a time
Swifts break record by staying aloft for 10 months at a time
Common swifts probably sleep and mate on the wing, and juvenile birds may fly even longer than adults – perhaps for two years non-stop. We long suspected that they sleep and mate on the wing. Now, for the first time, there’s evidence that common swifts probably have to do both, because they spend an astonishing 10 months per year without landing – a world record for sustained flight in nature. Their nearest rival is the alpine swift, which flies non-stop for up to six months a year. In Europe, common swifts land for two months to breed, spending the nights roosting in their nests. Then they’re off to Africa – where no one has ever found roosting sites belonging to them – before returning again in Europe 10 months later to breed. “It had been hypothesised in the 1950s and 1960s that they spend such prolonged periods in flight,” says Anders Hedenström of the University of Lund in Sweden. Now, he and his colleagues have shown that they do, by fitting seven swifts with lightweight data loggers and monitoring their movements and location for two years. “Three of them never reached the ground for 10 months,” says Hedenström. “The others did land briefly, for a few nights, but never for more than half a per cent of the total time of their migratory periods.”
10-27-16 Several startups are developing next-generation tests that they hope will help men better understand their fertility
Several startups are developing next-generation tests that they hope will help men better understand their fertility
Traditional sperm tests don't reveal much.They can assess how many sperm a man produces, whether sperm are misshapen, and how well they swim. But that's about it.Determined to extract more data, several startups are developing next-generation tests that they hope will help men better understand their fertility. The goal: to explain why some men who have normal sperm counts still cannot conceive.One such test is marketed as Seed. The $895 test comes from a startup called Episona, which operates out of a historic Craftsman bungalow here in Pasadena. It works by analyzing 480,000 regions of the epigenome — a teeming collection of chemical compounds, different for each individual, that latch on to our DNA and affect which genes are turned on and off.Founder Alan Horsager, who worked with geneticists, sperm experts, and computer scientists to develop the test, said he hoped to fill "a very big vacuum" for men struggling with infertility. "There's a big hunger for information on the male side," he said.
10-27-16 World wildlife 'falls by 58% in 40 years'
World wildlife 'falls by 58% in 40 years'
Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970, a report says. The Living Planet assessment, by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF, suggests that if the trend continues that decline could reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020. The figures suggest that animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses. Human activity, including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change contributed to the declines. Dr Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: "It's pretty clear under 'business as usual' we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we've reached a point where there isn't really any excuse to let this carry on. "We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations - it really is now down to us to act."
10-26-16 Wildlife numbers more than halve since 1970s in mass extinction
Wildlife numbers more than halve since 1970s in mass extinction
Mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles from around the world have seen 58 per cent fall in population - with the 2 per cent drop in numbers a year continuing. Global wildlife populations are set to have fallen by more than two thirds on 1970 levels by the end of the decade, conservationists warn. Assessment of 14,152 populations of 3,706 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles from around the world reveals a 58 per cent fall between 1970 and 2012 – with no sign the average 2 per cent drop in numbers each year will slow. By 2020, populations of vertebrate species could have fallen by 67 per cent over a 50-year period unless action is taken to reverse the damaging impacts of human activity, the Living Planet report from WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said. The figures prompted experts to warn nature was facing a global “mass extinction” for the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs. African elephants in Tanzania have seen numbers crash due to poaching, maned wolves in Brazil are threatened by grasslands being turned into farmland and European eels have declined due to disease, over-fishing and changes to their river habitats. (Webmaster's comment: At this rate by 2050 wildlife could be essentially gone, and certainly by 2080. Human beings are the most destructive creatures ever evolved on earth. If all intelligent life in the universe evolves along this same path then that explains why there is no intelligent life in the universe. "Intelligent life" essentially destroys the planet it lives on shortly after achieving dominance.)
10-26-16 Soft robot with a mouth and gut can forage for its own food
Soft robot with a mouth and gut can forage for its own food
The robot slurps biomatter from its environment to be entirely self-sufficient, and could one day be used in aquatic applications such as ocean clean-up. Lying in a bath in Bristol is a robotic scavenger, gorging itself on its surroundings. It’s able to get just enough energy to take in another stomach full of food, before ejecting its waste and repeating the process. This is no ordinary robot. It’s a self-sustaining soft robot with a mouth and gut. Developed by a Bristol-based collaboration, this robot imitates the life of salps – squishy tube-shaped marine organisms. Salps have an opening at each end, one for food to enter and one for waste to leave. They digest any tasty treats that pass through their body, giving them just enough energy to wiggle about. The same is true for the Bristol bot. By opening its “mouth”, made from a soft polymer membrane, the robot can suck in a belly full of water and biomatter. The artificial gut – a microbial fuel cell (MFC) – is filled with greedy microbes that break down the biomass and convert its chemical energy into electrical energy, which powers the robot. Digested waste matter is then expelled out the rear end, just as more water is sucked in the front for the next feed. With every mouthful, the robot’s reserves are replenished, so in theory it could roam indefinitely. “Squeezing out enough energy to be self-sustainable is the real breakthrough,” says Fumiya Iida, a robotics researcher from the University of Cambridge.
10-26-16 Paralysed people inhabit distant robot bodies with thought alone
Paralysed people inhabit distant robot bodies with thought alone
Using a head-up display and a cap that reads brain activity, for the first time three people with spinal injury have controlled a robot and seen what it sees. IN THE 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, people live their lives by embodying themselves as robots. They meet people, go to work, even fall in love, all without leaving the comfort of their own home. Now, for the first time, three people with severe spinal injuries have taken the first steps towards that vision by controlling a robot thousands of kilometres away, using thought alone. The idea is that people with spinal injuries will be able to use robot bodies to interact with the world. It is part of the European Union-backed VERE project, which aims to dissolve the boundary between the human body and a surrogate, giving people the illusion that their surrogate is in fact their own body. In 2012, an international team went some way to achieving this by taking fMRI scans of the brains of volunteers while they thought about moving their hands or legs. The scanner measured changes in blood flow to the brain area responsible for such thoughts. An algorithm then passed these on as instructions to a robot. The volunteers could see what the robot was looking at via a head-mounted display. When they thought about moving their left or right hand, the robot moved 30 degrees to the left or right. Imagining moving their legs made the robot walk forward.
10-26-16 Our Ice Age ancestors skinned cave lions to make roofs for huts
Our Ice Age ancestors skinned cave lions to make roofs for huts
Cave lion bones found near prehistoric huts in the La Garma cave in Spain show evidence of being skinned for fur, which the early humans seem to have used as roofs. Our Ice Age relatives from Spain seem to have been quite the daredevils. They appear to have hunted formidable cave lions, and used their pelts as roofs on tent-like huts. Closely related and similar in size to modern lions, cave lions once lived across wide areas of Europe, Asia and North America, before becoming extinct approximately 14,000 years ago as the glaciers receded. A team led by Marián Cueto, of University of Cantabria, in Spain, has found evidence that our ancestors skinned cave lions in the La Garma cave in Cantabria. Sealed by a rockslide for 16,000 years, La Garma is a well-preserved snapshot of Palaeolithic life, containing everything from human burial sites and spear tips to engraved horse bones and cave paintings. But key to the new discovery is a collection of toe bones believed to have belonged to a single cave lion. The bones show subtle markings, similar to those produced when a modern hunter skins a lion with the intention of keeping the claws attached to the fur. These represent evidence for a skilled Palaeolithic worker with both a specific intention and previous experience.
10-26-16 HIV Patient Zero cleared by science
HIV Patient Zero cleared by science
One of the most demonised patients in history - Gaetan Dugas - has been convincingly cleared of claims he spread HIV to the US, say scientists. Mr Dugas, a homosexual flight attendant, gained legendary status in the history of HIV/Aids when he became known as Patient Zero. But a study, in the journal Nature, showed he was just one of thousands of infected people in the 1970s. It also showed New York was a crucial hub for the spread of the virus. Aids only started to be recognised in 1981 when unusual symptoms started appearing in gay men.
10-26-16 HIV jumped to the US in 1970 – 10 years before it was spotted
HIV jumped to the US in 1970 – 10 years before it was spotted
The HIV virus was in the US in the 1970s before it triggered the nation's AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, a new genetic study has found. The HIV virus jumped from the Caribbean to the US around 1970 and triggered the country’s AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, a new genetic study has found. From there it spread across the country. The analysis of blood samples from the era also exonerate an air steward, unfairly labelled “Patient Zero”, who was blamed for starting the epidemic. Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona and colleagues sequenced eight full-length genomes from serum samples originally collected in the USA dating from the 1970s. They found that the virus was already genetically diverse during this time and that it probably emerged from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic. The first documented AIDS cases were in 1980 and the first death in New York City in 1981. Reports emerged in early 1982 of historical sexual links between several gay men with AIDS in Los Angeles, prompting investigators to interview the men and ask for the names of their sexual contacts. Gaetan Dugas, a French-Canadian gay man, was posthumously labelled “Patient Zero” by an unsympathetic media and accused of single-handedly being responsible for the spread of HIV and Aids across North America. But the new paper shows he was simply one of many thousands of people infected by the virus in the years before HIV was recognised.
10-26-16 HIV came to NYC at least a decade before virus ID’d
HIV came to NYC at least a decade before virus ID’d
DNA analysis of early viral strains tracks U.S. debut to early ’70s.The HIV virus’s path to the United States went through the Caribbean, new genetic analysis shows. The virus hit American shores in about 1971, arriving in New York City first and then spreading across the country. A genetic study of HIV viruses from the 1970s may finally clear the name of a man long identified as the source of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. HIV came to New York City between 1969 and 1973, long before the man known as Patient Zero became infected, researchers report October 26 in Nature. Using techniques developed to decipher badly degraded ancient DNA from fossils, researchers reconstructed the genetic instruction books of eight HIV viruses from blood samples collected in 1978 and 1979 in New York City and San Francisco. The viral DNA was so genetically diverse that the viruses must have been circulating in the cities for years, picking up variations, says evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Worobey and colleagues calculate that the virus probably first jumped to the United States in 1970 or 1971. So HIV spread for about a decade before AIDS was recognized in 1981 and found to be caused by a retrovirus in 1983.
10-26-16 Kamikaze cells wage biowarfare and fight viruses with viruses
Kamikaze cells wage biowarfare and fight viruses with viruses
When a giant virus attacks one marine predator, it sacrifices itself to make viruses that kill the attacker. Giants, self-sacrifice, biological warfare: this story has them all. A voracious marine predator plagued by a giant virus has a defence system we’ve never seen before – it fights back by making its very own virus. The individuals that make these bioweapons sacrifice themselves for the greater good, saving their fellow predators in the process. The single-celled predator, Cafeteria roenbergensis, is common in coastal waters around the world, where it snacks on bacteria (the biologists who discovered it in 1988 near the Danish town of Roenbjerg sat discussing their find in the local… yes, you guessed it). But Cafeteria has a deadly enemy of its own, the giant CroV virus.
10-26-16 Spider-eating bug muffles web vibrations to sneak up on prey
Spider-eating bug muffles web vibrations to sneak up on prey
It’s a silent assassin. To eat a spider, the long-necked giraffe assassin bug has to snap web threads without being noticed – and avoid being devoured itself. Silent assassin. A predatory Australian insect creeps up on spiders undetected by breaking their webs thread-by-thread and suppressing the resulting vibrations. Spiders are highly attuned to disturbances in their webs, meaning that most predators try to minimise contact. Damselflies, for example, avoid touching the web by hovering nearby and plucking spiders off. The giraffe assassin bug on the other hand, boldly captures spiders on foot. To understand how, Fernando Soley at Macquarie University in Sydney filmed dozens of the insects hunting spiders and used a laser to measure vibrations in web threads.
10-26-16 Parrot fossil unearthed in Siberia
Parrot fossil unearthed in Siberia
A parrot fossil has been unearthed in Siberia - the furthest north one of these birds has ever been found, a study reports. A single parrot bone was discovered in the Baikal region and dates to between 16 and 18 million years ago. It suggests that the birds, which today mainly inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions, may once have been widespread in Eurasia. It is also the first time a fossil parrot has been found in Asia.
10-26-16 'Super-parenting' improves children's autism
'Super-parenting' improves children's autism
Giving mums and dads the skills to become "super parents" can dramatically improve their child's autism, a long-term study has shown. In the training, parents watched films of themselves playing with their child while a therapist gave precise tips for helping their child communicate. "What is remarkable is the pay-off," said Louisa Harrison, who has seen a huge improvement in her son Frank. Experts said the results, published in the Lancet, were "hugely cheering".
10-25-16 Autism intervention is first to show benefits over the long term
Autism intervention is first to show benefits over the long term
A programme that tweaks parents' communication skills is the first to show consistent improvements in children with severe autism. A parent-led intervention is the first to have lasting benefits for children with severe autism. That’s the message from a study following up on a trial to see whether expert feedback could improve social communication in young children with autism. The intervention is the first to show any consistent improvements in core symptoms over such a long period of time, says Jonathan Green at the University of Manchester, UK. Although many interventions for autism, including drug-based ones, have been trialled, none has shown any strong evidence of benefit. The original expert feedback trial involved children between the ages of 2 and 4 years and 11 months who had been diagnosed with autism. Each child’s symptoms were measured and they were given a score of overall symptom severity.
10-25-16 Training for parents may lessen some autism symptoms in kids
Training for parents may lessen some autism symptoms in kids
Communication skills show small but long-lasting improvements, study finds. A program that teaches parents how to communicate better with their kids may improve certain autism symptoms, a new study suggests. Training parents to better communicate with their children with autism spectrum disorder may lead to long-lasting improvements in certain symptoms, scientists report online in the Oct. 25 Lancet. The results are “very encouraging,” because they show long-term benefits for a relatively low-intensity treatment — one that’s delivered by parents, says clinical psychologist Geraldine Dawson, who directs the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.
10-25-16 Mice fall for rubber hand illusion just like us
Mice fall for rubber hand illusion just like us
Rodents can be tricked into thinking a fake tail is their own, and in doing so may help us develop prosthetic limbs that are more easily incorporated into body image. It’s a tale of two tails. Mice can be tricked into thinking fake tails are their own, using the same “rubber hand illusion” that works in people. The illusion helps us understand how our brains create a sense of body ownership and awareness. The discovery that mice fall for the same trick could aid the development of prosthetic limbs and treatments for psychiatric disorders. In the human version of the trick, a person sits next to a rubber hand and their own hand is hidden. Stroking both hands at the same time tricks the person into feeling that the rubber limb is their own. When the fake hand is attacked, people yell out in fear – as if their own limb were under threat. Kenji Kansaku at the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in Tokorozawa, Japan, and his colleagues performed the same trick on mice, hiding their tails and using a fake one.
10-24-16 Lying feels bad at first but our brains soon adapt to deceiving
Lying feels bad at first but our brains soon adapt to deceiving
Scans reveal that as we tell more and more fibs, our brains become desensitised to lying, allowing dishonesty to snowball. Little white lies have a tendency to snowball. Now we’ve found out why – the more we lie, the more our brains seem to become desensitised to the act of lying. Could this discovery help prevent dishonesty spiralling out of control? It isn’t difficult to think of someone who has ended up in a tangled web of their own lies. “The examples are everywhere you look, whether it’s scientific, political or financial fraud, or infidelity,” says Tali Sharot at University College London. In many cases, the lies start small, but escalate. Sharot and her colleagues wondered if a person’s brain might get desensitised to lying, in the same way we get used to the horror of a violent image if we see it enough times. Most people feel guilty when they intentionally deceive someone else, but could this feeling ebb away with practice?
10-24-16 Frequent liars show less activity in key brain structure
Frequent liars show less activity in key brain structure
Blunted reaction in amygdala may explain how small lies escalate. As people told more lies, their brain activity changed, a finding that could represent dishonesty’s slippery slope. When small lies snowball into blizzards of deception, the brain becomes numb to dishonesty. As people tell more and bigger lies, certain brain areas respond less to the whoppers, scientists report online October 24 in Nature Neuroscience. The results might help explain how small transgressions can ultimately set pants aflame. The findings “have big implications for how lying can develop,” says developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar of McGill University in Montreal, who studies how dishonest behavior develops in children. “It starts to give us some idea about how lying escalates from small lies to bigger ones.”
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10-24-16 Nose cells fix knee cartilage in human trial
Nose cells fix knee cartilage in human trial
Swiss doctors took healthy tissue from people’s noses to make grafts that can function like healthy joint cartilage (shown) and use it to repair knees. It has worked in goats. And now, in the first human trial, researchers at the University of Basel have taken the cells, called chondrocytes, from the noses of 10 patients with damaged knee joints and grown them into cartilage grafts. These repair patches were then surgically implanted into the patients' knee joints. Two years after surgery, nine patients have seen improvements in knee function, quality of life and pain. (One patient dropped out of the trial due to additional athletic injuries.) MRI scans showed that the grafts looked like normal hyaline cartilage, the hard-to-replicate material that coats the tip of bones, the team reports October 20 in The Lancet. Tests in more people are needed to determine whether the technique is truly ready for prime time.
10-21-16 DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative
DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative
Melanesians carry genetic clues to hominid not revealed by fossils. People from Papua New Guinea and Australia carry small amounts of DNA from extinct human relatives. New research suggests that the DNA may not come from Neandertals or Denisovans, but from a third, previously unknown extinct hominid. Traces of long-lost human cousins may be hiding in modern people’s DNA, a new computer analysis suggests. People from Melanesia, a region in the South Pacific encompassing Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands, may carry genetic evidence of a previously unknown extinct hominid species, Ryan Bohlender reported October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. That species is probably not Neandertal or Denisovan, but a different, related hominid group, said Bohlender, a statistical geneticist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We’re missing a population or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” he said.
10-21-16 Virus triggers immune proteins to aid enemy
Virus triggers immune proteins to aid enemy
Attack on antibody cells may explain persistence of chronic infections. When scientists stopped virus-infected mice from making type 1 interferon proteins, the mice had 20 times more virus-fighting B cells than mice making the proteins. Crucial immune system proteins that make it harder for viruses to replicate might also help the attackers avoid detection, three new studies suggest. When faced with certain viruses, the proteins can set off a cascade of cell-to-cell messages that destroy antibody-producing immune cells. With those virus-fighting cells depleted, it’s easier for the invader to persist inside the host’s body. The finding begins to explain a longstanding conundrum: how certain chronic viral infections can dodge the immune system’s antibody response, says David Brooks, an immunologist at the University of Toronto not involved in the research. The new studies, all published October 21 in Science Immunology, pin the blame on the same set of proteins: type 1 interferons.
10-21-16 Shawl thing: Cashmere could soon come from gene-edited goats
Shawl thing: Cashmere could soon come from gene-edited goats
In a few years’ time, that wonderfully soft cashmere sweater you buy could come from gene-edited goats. A team in China has created goats that produce a third more cashmere than normal goats. The birth of the kids, at the Shaanbei Cashmere Goat Farm of Yulin University in China, was reported last year. The team used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to disable the FGF5 gene, which limits hair growth, in the Shannbei cashmere breed of goats. FGF5 controls hair length in a wide variety of animals, including people. For instance, a few people have abnormally long eyelashes – a condition called trichomegaly – due to mutations in the gene. The long hair of some breeds of animals, such as Pembroke Welsh corgis, is also due to similar mutations.
10-21-16 A maximum limit to the human life span?
A maximum limit to the human life span?
Many scientists believe that the first human who will live to the grand old age of 150 has already been born. Advances in medicine and sanitation have consistently pushed up the average life span over the past century, with a baby born today in the U.S. expected to live to 79, up from 50 in 1900. But a new study suggests that we have already hit our maximum longevity, and that life expectancy probably peaked in 1997 with the death of the world’s oldest person ever: 122-year-old Jeanne Calment of France. Geneticists at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine analyzed two international databases on age and found that after decades of increases, the average maximum age plateaued in the mid-1990s, at just under 115. “We cannot break through that ceiling,” study leader Jan Vijg tells NPR.org. Describing Calment as an “outlier,” Vijg believes certain biological limits cannot be overcome by technological and medical advances. Our DNA and cells naturally accumulate damage over time, which eventually leads to the failure of crucial bodily functions. Rather than focus on lengthening life span, Vijg argues we should focus on extending our healthiest years through exercise, eating healthily, and perhaps taking drugs to fix some of the cellular damage. “There’s a good chance to improve health span,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”
10-20-16 $100 million project to make intelligence-boosting brain implant
$100 million project to make intelligence-boosting brain implant
Human intelligence is set to be the world’s biggest ever industry, says entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, whose company aims to enhance it with a brain prosthesis. If you could implant a device in your brain to enhance your intelligence, would you do it? A new company has just invested $100 million into developing such a device, and is being advised by some of the biggest names in science. The company, Kernel, was launched earlier this year by entrepreneur Bryan Johnson. He says he has spent many years wondering how best to contribute to humanity. “I arrived at intelligence. I think it’s the most precious and powerful resource in existence,” says Johnson. His goal is for human intelligence to expand and develop in the same way that artificial intelligence has in recent years. The first experiments planned will be on memory. Johnson is working with Theodore Berger, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who is looking at the hippocampus – a brain region key for memory.
10-20-16 Staph infections still a concern
Staph infections still a concern
Excerpt from the October 29, 1966, issue of Science News. Antibiotic resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus are pushing scientists to find alternative treatments, including vaccines. Staphylococcus aureus has not been conquered. As antibiotic resistance grows, the pressure is on to find ways to stop the deadly microbe. A vaccine that targets S. aureus’ various routes of infection is being tested in patients having back surgery. Ideally, doctors would use the vaccine to protect hospital patients and people with weakened immune systems. This vaccine is the furthest along among several others in development. Meanwhile, a natural antibiotic recently found in human noses may lead to drugs that target antibiotic-resistant staph (SN: 8/20/16, p. 7).
10-20-16 Maps show genetic diversity in mammals, amphibians around the world
Maps show genetic diversity in mammals, amphibians around the world
Charts provide a baseline to study humans’ effects on species. Maps of genetic diversity within mammal and amphibian species provide a baseline for understanding the effects of human activity and climate change on animals. Maps have long been used to show the animal kingdom’s range, regional mix, populations at risk and more. Now a new set of maps reveals the global distribution of genetic diversity. “Without genetic diversity, species can’t evolve into new species,” says Andreia Miraldo, a population geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. “It also plays a fundamental role in allowing species populations to adapt to changes in their environment.”
10-21-16 Kuwait to change law forcing all citizens to provide DNA samples
Kuwait to change law forcing all citizens to provide DNA samples
Challenges and appeals have pushed Kuwait’s parliament to revise anti-terrorism law that requires citizens and visitors to give samples of their DNA. Kuwait plans to scale down, and may ultimately revoke, a law forcing all its citizens and visitors to provide samples of their DNA. Reportedly introduced as a measure to combat terrorism, it is the first law of its kind worldwide, and has been criticised for being unconstitutional, undermining privacy rights and as being unlikely to prevent terrorist attacks. In the wake of a legal challenge last month, and an appeal from the emir of Kuwait, the Kuwait parliament has now agreed to change the law so that only suspected criminals will need to give their DNA.
10-21-16 Snow leopards: Numbers decline due to 'retaliation'
Snow leopards: Numbers decline due to 'retaliation'
Hundreds of snow leopards are being killed by poachers every year across the high mountain ranges of Asia, according to a new report. It's estimated there are just 4,000 of these elegant but elusive creatures now surviving in the wild. Around four a week are being poached say experts, with most killed by local people in revenge for livestock losses. The report highlights concerns that the illegal trade in snow leopard skins is moving online to evade the law.
10-21-16 Hundreds of endangered wild snow leopards are killed each year
Hundreds of endangered wild snow leopards are killed each year
Cattle herders kill even more leopards than poachers, in revenge for livestock attacks. So helping them protect their animals could save the rare mountain cats. As many as 450 endangered snow leopards have been killed each year since 2008, a report on the fate of the mountain cats estimates. Only 4000 to 7000 of the animals are thought to remain in the 12 mountainous Asian countries they inhabit. A big surprise is that more than half the killings – 55 per cent – are estimated to be done by herders avenging livestock attacks by leopards, with only 21 per cent of the cats taken by poachers.
10-21-16 Giant dinosaurs 'crossed continents'
Giant dinosaurs 'crossed continents'
Some of the giants of the dinosaur family may have originated in South America and crossed over Antarctica to Australia about 100 million years ago. The dinosaurs were able to make the journey when a spell of warming allowed passage over frozen land bridges between the continents. Two fossil discoveries in Australia shed new light on this theory. Both specimens are sauropods - a group of large, herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and small heads. Further classified as titanosaurs, they are among the largest dinosaurs ever to walk the Earth.
10-20-16 Ancient armored fish revises early history of jaws
Ancient armored fish revises early history of jaws
Placoderm fossil had skull bones like those of many modern vertebrates. A 423-million-year-old armored fish from China had jaws that resemble those of modern land vertebrates and bony fish. A freaky fish with a head like a dolphin and a body like a tank may be to thank for human jaws. The discovery of a 423-million-year-old armored fish from China suggests that the jaws of all modern land vertebrates and bony fish originated in a bizarre group of animals called placoderms, researchers report in the Oct. 21 Science.
10-20-16 Strange purple sea creatures found in deep ocean trenches
Strange purple sea creatures found in deep ocean trenches
Scores of spectacular and rare under sea species have been found by expeditions this year to some of the deepest trenches in the Pacific Ocean. They include strange purple orbs, "mud monsters" and a bizarre swimming sea cucumber reminiscent of a flying Mary Poppins. Another voyage found around 500 new undersea methane vents off the US west coast. This doubles the number of known seeps, bubbling up a powerful greenhouse gas. The gas vents were found by an expedition mounted by Dr Robert Ballard, the man who first located the wreck of the Titanic.
10-20-16 Stone Age people 'roasted rodents for food' - archaeologists
Stone Age people 'roasted rodents for food' - archaeologists
Rodents appear to have been roasted for food by Stone Age people as early as 5,000 years ago, archaeological evidence suggests. Bones from archaeological sites in Orkney show voles were cooked or boiled for food, or possibly for pest control. This is the first evidence for the exploitation of rodents by Neolithic people in Europe, say scientists. Rodents were consumed later in history, with the dormouse regarded as a delicacy during Roman times.
10-20-16 Our ancestors chose reeds over grain when quitting nomadic life
Our ancestors chose reeds over grain when quitting nomadic life
It wasn’t all about cereal. When abandoning nomadic life, some of our ancestors were playing it safe with grasses that are less nutritious but grow all year round. When ancient hunter-gatherers first began to give up their nomadic life, they weren’t just chasing the grain. Rather than looking for big payoffs from harvesting cereal grains, it seems at least some groups may have been playing it safe. If so, the transition to sedentary life — the first big step toward agriculture — may have been more complex, and more varied, than archaeologists thought. The standard view has been that around 20,000 years ago, our ancestors began to stay in one place for long periods so that they could exploit the wild grains growing there, which provided a dense source of energy. After many generations of selection, these grains became the modern domesticated cereals on which most of our civilisations depend. Archaeologists have had few opportunities to test this view because plant remains from the early stages of this transition are scarce. Recently, however, researchers have begun to use phytoliths — microscopic silica crystals that form in plant tissues and persist for millennia — to investigate which plants would have been around at early archaeological sites.
10-20-16 Mice’s love songs go wrong when ‘language gene’ is messed up
Mice’s love songs go wrong when ‘language gene’ is messed up
The FOXP2 gene probably helped us evolve speech when we split from chimpanzees. But tinkering with the gene in mice affects their communication too. Mouse squeaks may have more in common with human speech than we realised. Tinkering with a gene associated with language in humans has been found to mess up mice’s mating calls. The gene, called FOXP2, is one of the most-studied genes involved in human brain evolution. It was discovered in the 1990s in a study of a British family that had 16 relatives who had difficulty making certain mouth movements and complex sounds. The gene turned out to encode a protein that is found in the brain while we develop in the womb, and its shape suggests it works by helping to turn other genes on and off. Other studies have shown that, while FOXP2 has stayed mostly unchanged throughout mammal evolution, there have been two mutations in the gene since we split from our closest living relatives, chimpanzees.
10-19-16 Mice smell, share each other's pain
Mice smell, share each other's pain
Olfactory signal suspected as way hurt sensitivity is transmitted mouse-to-mouse. Odor cues from mice in pain can make cagemates more sensitive to pain themselves, a new study suggets. Pain is contagious, at least for mice. After encountering bedding where mice in pain had slept, other mice became more sensitive to pain themselves. The experiment, described online October 19 in Science Advances, shows that pain can move from one animal to another — no injury or illness required. The results “add to a growing body of research showing that animals communicate distress and are affected by the distress of others,” says neuroscientist Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal of the University of California, Berkeley.
10-19-16 Is pain catching? First clues that it might spread to others
Is pain catching? First clues that it might spread to others
Scents and odours seem to be implicated in the first experiments that seem to show mice can sensitise other mice to pain. Are other people making you feel their pain? That’s one possible upshot of experiments that seem to show sensitivity to pain can be transferred socially, at least in mice. If the same is true for people, it may help explain conditions such as fibromyalgia, where people feel pain in the absence of an obvious medical cause. “We’ve shown for the first time that you don’t need an injury or inflammation to develop a pain state,” says team leader Andrey Ryabinin from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. “Pain can develop simply because of social cues.”
10-19-16 Cheese-making led to gene-swapping orgy of bacterial bestiality
Cheese-making led to gene-swapping orgy of bacterial bestiality
THAT cheese you’re so fond of is a hotbed of bacterial bestiality. The diverse microbes that cheese-makers use are swapping genes like crazy as they evolve to thrive in the new environment we have created for them. A study of 165 of the bacterial species in cheeses has found that 130 of them – 80 per cent – have shared genes with other species. Altogether nearly 5000 genes have been swapped. The process probably began when people started making cheeses, and continues to this day. And this level of sharing is probably an underestimate, according to Kevin Bonham of the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues. Cheese contains many bacterial and fungal species, so there could also be gene-swapping between fungi and bacteria, and among fungi (bioRxiv, doi.org/brwr).
10-19-16 ‘Three-parent baby’ boy healthy so far
‘Three-parent baby’ boy healthy so far
Three other embryos created by technique had wrong chromosome count. Doctors say an infant boy, born in April as the result of a “three-parent baby” technique, is doing well and shows no signs of having inherited a fatal mitochondrial disease from his mother. New details about a baby boy born with genetic material from his mother, his father and a female donor show the promise and drawbacks of a technique used to produce a “three-parent baby.” Called spindle transfer (SN Online: 10/18/2016), the technique is designed to avoid passing on potentially harmful DNA mutations in the mother’s mitochondria, powerhouse organelles that contain their own genetic material.
10-19-16 Cave paintings reveal clues to mystery Ice Age beast
Cave paintings reveal clues to mystery Ice Age beast
Cave art from the Ice Age has helped solve the mysterious origins of Europe's largest land mammal. The modern European bison, now found only in protected reserves, once roamed widely on the continent. Studies of ancient DNA show the bison arose from interbreeding between the extinct steppe bison and the aurochs, about 120,000 years ago. The scientific evidence was confirmed by cave paintings that depict features such as horns and humps.
10-19-16 Tom Wolfe’s denial of language evolution stumbles over his own words
Tom Wolfe’s denial of language evolution stumbles over his own words
New book attacking Darwin, Chomsky substitutes smugness for substance. Babies are born with the ability to learn and use language, a feature of human behavior that, like other behavioral capabilities, emerged from eons of biological evolution — a scientific explanation that author Tom Wolfe rejects in his new book, The Kingdom of Speech. Language is a tricky thing to write about. You’re using it while dissecting it. That sort of recursion can trip you up. As a philosopher friend of mine once said, a zoologist studying tigers, while riding on the back of a tiger, should be very careful. Of all the writers who’ve ever taken on the task of writing about language, nobody of any consequence has ever tripped himself up quite so much as Tom Wolfe. His new book, The Kingdom of Speech, has been widely denigrated (deservedly) by scientists who have encountered it. Wolfe has taken it upon himself to explain various aspects of science — having to do with biological evolution, linguistics, psychology and cognitive neuroscience — to scientists, in the process disparaging titans in their fields such as Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky. It’s kind of like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie trashing George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Wolfe pontificates about language without realizing that he’s riding on the back of a linguistic tiger.
10-18-16 One in 20 European patients catch an infection while in hospital
One in 20 European patients catch an infection while in hospital
An analysis of data from hospitals from across Europe estimates that there are 2.5 million hospital-acquired infections a year, causing around 90,000 deaths. Europe sees millions of hospital-caught infections a year, killing thousands of people. The first ever study of hospital-acquired infections in European hospitals has found that the combined health impact of these infections is twice that of the combined burden of 32 infections caught outside hospitals, including flu, HIV and tuberculosis. The study analysed data from 1149 hospitals in 30 European countries. It estimates that between 2011 and 2012, more than 2.5 million hospital-acquired infections were caught across Europe. This means that one in every 20 patients caught an infection during their time in hospital. An estimated 90,000 people died.
10-18-16 How a mother's voice changes her baby's brain
How a mother's voice changes her baby's brain
It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother's voice to those of strangers. Beginning in the womb, a foetus' developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother. Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother's voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices. A 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother's voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay. A mother's voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone. Scientists have even traced the power of a mother's voice to infants' brains: A mother's voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialized task of speech processing.
10-18-16 Overweight mothers give birth to biologically older babies
Overweight mothers give birth to biologically older babies
Babies born to obese mothers have shorter telomeres - equivalent to up to 10 years' extra ageing - which may put them at risk of diabetes and heart disease. Women who are overweight while pregnant are more likely to have babies who are biologically older than those born to women of a healthy weight. This could put the babies at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases later in life, and may reduce their life expectancy. Our biological age is linked to the length of our telomeres – bits of DNA that cap the ends of our chromosomes. Our telomeres shrink every time our cells divide, and continue to shorten throughout life. “Short telomeres have been associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis,” says Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium. The length of a person’s telomeres at birth varies, though it is not clear why. Nawrot and his colleagues wondered if having an overweight or obese mother might make a difference. The team collected the BMI scores of 743 women who later went on to become pregnant. When the women had babies, they took samples of blood from the umbilical cord and placenta, and measured the length of telomeres in blood cells.
10-18-16 Tasmanian devil milk fights superbugs
Tasmanian devil milk fights superbugs
Milk from Tasmanian devils could offer up a useful weapon against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, according to Australian researchers. The marsupial's milk contains important peptides that appear to be able to kill hard-to-treat infections, including MRSA, say the Sydney University team. Experts believe devils evolved this cocktail to help their young grow stronger. The scientists are looking to make new treatments that mimic the peptides. They have scanned the devil's genetic code to find and recreate the infection-fighting compounds, called cathelicidins.
10-18-16 Anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve symptoms of depression
Anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve symptoms of depression
An analysis of 20 studies suggests that anti-cytokine drugs could help people with depression – especially those who don’t respond to antidepressants. Is depression caused by an inflamed brain? A review of studies looking at inflammation and depression has found that a class of anti-inflammatory drugs can ease the condition’s symptoms. Golam Khandaker at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analysed 20 clinical studies assessing the effects of anti-cytokine drugs in people with chronic inflammatory conditions. These drugs block the effects of cytokines – proteins that control the actions of the immune system. Anti-cytokines can dampen down inflammation, and are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Together, these trials involved over 5,000 volunteers, and provide significant evidence that anti-cytokine drugs can also improve the symptoms of depression, Khandaker’s team found. These drugs work about as well as commonly used antidepressants, they say.
10-18-16 Melatonin makes midshipman fish sing
Melatonin makes midshipman fish sing
Hormone that lulls people to sleep signals underwater fish flirting. A humming midshipman male and a female are surrounded by two smaller sneaky males and a brood of wispy white larvae. For widemouthed, musical midshipman fish, melatonin is not a sleep hormone — it’s a serenade starter. In breeding season, male plainfin midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) spend their nights singing — if that’s the word for hours of sustained foghorn hums. Males dig trysting nests under rocks along much of North America’s Pacific coast, then await females drawn in by the crooning. New lab tests show that melatonin, familiar to humans as a possible sleep aid, is a serenade “go” signal, says behavioral neurobiologist Ni Feng of Yale University.
10-18-16 Mystery beast in ice age cave art revealed as cow-bison hybrid
Mystery beast in ice age cave art revealed as cow-bison hybrid
What was long thought to be a change in cave art style was in fact the natural evolution of a hybrid species – the elusive ancestor of modern European bison. Cow, bison or both? DNA fingerprinting has revealed that a strange bovine creature painted by European cave artists during the ice age was a cross between a cow ancestor and bison. Ancient European paintings depict two types of bison: one with long horns, a large hump and robust forequarters, and the other with short horns and a small hump. The former is more common in cave art painted more than 22,000 years ago, while the latter emerges about 17,000 years ago. Until recently, the two depictions were thought to reflect a change in art style, because only one species of bison – the now-extinct steppe bison – was believed to have inhabited Europe during this period.
10-17-16 Eggs made from skin cells in lab could herald end of infertility
Eggs made from skin cells in lab could herald end of infertility
Fertile eggs have been created from mouse skin cells for the first time, raising the prospect of new fertility treatments and babies with two genetic fathers. Fertile, mature eggs have been created from mouse skin cells in the lab for the first time. They have even been fertilised to create seemingly healthy pups. The feat suggests it is only a matter of time before the same is achieved in humans, opening up the possibility of new fertility treatments, and the potential for two men to genetically father a baby together. Katsuhiko Hayashi at Kyushu University in Fukoka, Japan, and his team have been trying to understand how eggs develop by attempting to recreate the process in the lab. The group had some success in 2012, by managing to turn mouse skin cells into primary germ cells – a kind of immature egg cell in its early stages of development. However, these cells had to be re-implanted into a mouse’s ovary to finish developing. Now, the team has made egg cells mature fully in the lab.
10-17-16 In a first, mouse eggs grown from skin cells
In a first, mouse eggs grown from skin cells
Lab technique re-creating ovary conditions in a dish needs refinement. Skin cells from the tip of a mouse’s tail were reprogrammed into eggs made entirely in a lab dish. Some of those eggs produced healthy mice. For the first time, researchers have grown eggs entirely in a lab dish. Skin-producing cells called fibroblasts from the tip of an adult mouse’s tail have been reprogrammed to make eggs, Japanese researchers report online October 17 in Nature. Those eggs were fertilized and grew into six healthy mice. The accomplishment could make it possible to study the formation of gametes — eggs and sperm — a mysterious process that takes place inside fetuses. If the feat can be repeated with human cells, it could make eggs easily available for research and may eventually lead to infertility treatments.
10-17-16 Whales’ dung is the real reason we need to stop hunting them
Whales’ dung is the real reason we need to stop hunting them
DGrowing evidence that whales boost fish numbers and play a crucial environmental role will take centre stage at a major whaling summit taking place this week. The role of whale faeces in regenerating fish stocks will occupy centre-stage this week and next at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia. For the first time in the IWC’s 70-year history, delegates attending from member countries will be invited to acknowledge growing evidence that whales don’t decrease fish numbers – the primary excuse for continued whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland – and they actually have the opposite effect. Research is revealing that whale dung brings nutrients to the surface waters, which generates food for more fish by stimulating the growth of phytoplankton, the tiny organisms that are eaten by krill. These then become prey for fish. Phytoplankton also suck carbon dioxide out of the air, helping to limit global warming.
10-17-16 Here’s why putting tomatoes in the fridge makes them tasteless
Here’s why putting tomatoes in the fridge makes them tasteless
Changes in gene activity affect the flavour of chilled tomatoes, a new insight that could help us create more cold-proof varieties. Some foods just aren’t meant to go in the fridge – like tomatoes. As some consumers have long known, refrigerating them permanently impairs their flavour, but the reasons were elusive. New insights into why this happens may some day help us develop varieties that retain their flavour during cold storage. A team led by Harry Klee of the University of Florida in Gainesville got their teeth into the problem by studying the expression of more than 25,000 genes in two tomato varieties. They looked at these genes before and during chilling, and after returning the tomatoes to room temperature. Chilling, a major stress for a tropical plant such as the tomato, reduced the activity of hundreds of genes. Some of these produce enzymes responsible for synthesising the volatile chemicals that make tomatoes taste sweeter and give them a more complex, appealing aroma. Many of the enzymes never recovered, even after the tomatoes were back at room temperature. Taste tests confirmed that chilling did, indeed, give rise to less flavourful tomatoes.
10-17-16 Berries may give yellow woodpeckers a red dye job
Berries may give yellow woodpeckers a red dye job
Aberrant red feathers stick out amid the typically gold wings of yellow-shafted flickers. To the bafflement of birders, yellow-shafted flickers (Colaptes auratus auratus) sometimes sport red or orange wing feathers. Scientists have suggested that the birds, which inhabit eastern North America, might be products of genetic variation affecting the carotenoid pigments that produce their flight-feather colors. Alternatively, the birds might be hybrids from mixing with a subspecies that lives in the west, red-shafted flickers (Colaptes auratus cafer). Despite decades of study, no clear-cut explanation has emerged.
10-17-16 Out-of-sync body clock causes more woes than sleepiness
Out-of-sync body clock causes more woes than sleepiness
Bayesian math describes conflicts leading to maladies labeled ‘circadian-time sickness’. Timekeeping conflicts arise when internal cues don’t match external ones, such as late-night light. When the body’s internal sense of time doesn’t match up with outside cues, people can suffer, and not just from a lack of sleep. Such ailments are similar in a way to motion sickness — the queasiness caused when body sensations of movement don’t match the external world. So scientists propose calling time-related troubles, which can afflict time-zone hoppers and people who work at night, “circadian-time sickness.” This malady can be described, these scientists say, with a certain type of math.
10-15-16 Be careful what you say around jumping spiders
Be careful what you say around jumping spiders
Arachnids hear airborne sounds over greater distances than thought. A tiny jumping spider (Phidippus audax) may hear airborne sounds from several meters away, new experiments show. Accidental chair squeaks in a lab have tipped off researchers to a new world of eavesdroppers. Spiders don’t have eardrums, though their exquisitely sensitive leg hairs pick up vibrations humming through solids like web silk and leaves. Biologists thought that any airborne sounds more than a few centimeters away would be inaudible. But the first recordings of auditory nerve cells firing inside a spider brain suggest that the tiny Phidippus audax jumping spider can pick up airborne sounds from at least three meters away, says Ronald Hoy of Cornell University.
10-14-16 Placenta protectors no match for toxic Strep B pigment
Placenta protectors no match for toxic Strep B pigment.
A toxic pigment made by Strep B bacteria destroys infection-fighting cells called neutrophils. A type of bacteria that can cause stillbirth and fatal illness in newborns attacks with an unlikely weapon: an orange pigment made of fat. This pigment mutilates infection-fighting immune system cells, enabling the bacteria — Group B Streptococcus — to quickly cross the placenta and invade the amniotic sac, a new study in monkeys shows. In one case, it took as little as 15 minutes for the bacteria to cross the protective membrane, researchers report October 14 in Science Immunology. “That’s shocking,” says study coauthor Kristina Adams Waldorf, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “The poor placenta has no time to control the invasion.” Strep B bacteria are an often harmless part of the gastrointestinal tract and vaginal flora of healthy women. But during pregnancy, the bacteria can cause serious problems, including preterm labor, stillbirth and life-threatening infections.
10-14-16 AI system learns like a human, stores info like a computer
AI system learns like a human, stores info like a computer
A new artificial intelligence system can learn how to navigate the shortest route on the London Underground based on other examples, instead of being programmed to do so like a traditional computer. A GPS app can plan the best route between two subway stops if it has been specifically programmed for the task. But a new artificial intelligence system can figure out how to do so on the fly by learning general rules from specific examples, researchers report October 12 in Nature. Artificial neural networks, computer programs that mimic the human brain, are great at learning patterns and sequences, but so far they’ve been limited in their ability to solve complex reasoning problems that require storing and manipulating lots of data. The new hybrid computer links a neural network to an external memory source that works somewhat like RAM in a regular computer. Scientists trained the computer by giving it solved examples of reasoning problems, like finding the shortest distance between two points on a randomly generated map. Then, the computer could generalize that knowledge to solve new problems, like planning the shortest route between stops on the London Underground. Rather than being programmed, the neural network, like the human brain, responds to training: It can continually integrate new information and change its response accordingly.
10-14-16 Baby-led weaning is safe, if done right
Baby-led weaning is safe, if done right
Babies eating solid foods instead of spoon-fed purees no more likely to choke, study finds. Soft foods that can be easily squished against the roof of the mouth, such as bananas and cooked broccoli, make good meals for babies learning to feed themselves. When babies are ready for solid foods, the meal usually arrives on a spoon. Parents scoop up pureed carrots, liquefied banana or soupy rice cereal and deliver it straight to their baby’s mouth (or forehead). But a different way of introducing solids is gaining ground. Called baby-led weaning, the approach is based on letting the baby feed herself whole foods such as a soft pear or a spear of cooked broccoli — no spoon required. Advocates say that by having control over what goes in their mouths, babies learn to regulate their food intake, refine motor skills and perhaps even become more adventurous eaters. But critics fret that inexperienced eaters may be more likely to choke on solid foods that they feed themselves. A new study of about 200 Australian babies has some reassuring news: Provided that certain risky foods were avoided, babies who fed themselves solid foods were no more likely to choke than spoon-fed babies.
10-14-16 Caffeine curbs dementia risk
Caffeine curbs dementia risk
Coffee lovers probably don’t need any more encouragement to indulge in a cup of joe. But a new study suggests caffeine may help stave off dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment among older women, reports HuffingtonPost.com. Researchers tracked the brain function and caffeine consumption of 6,467 women ages 65 and older, for 10 years. After considering other risk factors—including depression, smoking, heart disease, and alcohol intake—they found the women who drank the caffeine equivalent of about three 8-ounce cups of coffee a day reduced their risk for dementia by 36 percent. The findings don’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship, and it remains unclear how caffeine might help—the stimulant may block certain chemical receptors in the brain that could malfunction and impair learning and memory as people age. But Ira Driscoll, the study’s author, was nevertheless encouraged by the results. “The mounting evidence of caffeine consumption as a potentially protective factor against cognitive impairment is exciting,” she says. “Caffeine is an easily modifiable dietary factor.” An estimated 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s; one in three seniors dies with some form of dementia.
10-14-16 These are the foods you should eat if you want less smelly farts
These are the foods you should eat if you want less smelly farts
By mixing faeces with food ingredients, researchers have worked out which foodstuffs can reduce the amount of “rotten-egg gas” produced by our gut bacteria. Eating slow-release carbs and cutting down on protein may prevent rotten-egg farts according to a study of the gases emitted by human faeces samples. Farts are mostly composed of odourless gases. There is oxygen and nitrogen from swallowed air, while hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide are produced when bacteria in the large intestine ferment the carbohydrates we eat. The distinctive rotten-egg whiff is caused by traces of hydrogen sulphide, which gut bacteria are known to produce from protein. In addition to causing red-face moments, this gas can exacerbate inflammatory bowel disease and increase the risk of bowel cancer. This prompted Chu Yao at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and her colleagues to investigate how different foods affect the amount of hydrogen sulphide is produced in the gut.
10-14-16 Comet impact 'linked' to rise of mammals
Comet impact 'linked' to rise of mammals
A comet impact 55 million years ago may have helped mammals dominate the Earth. It could have triggered a rapid phase of global warming linked to the expansion of mammal groups during the Eocene time period. Writing in the journal Science, a team of American researchers outlines new evidence for the theory. They found spherical fragments of glass thought to form when molten debris flung out by an impact solidifies in mid-air. But the team's interpretation remains controversial with other experts. Space impacts have had profound effects on Earth's ecosystems. For example, an asteroid which slammed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs.
10-14-16 Dinosaur-era 'swordfish' discovered in outback Australia
Dinosaur-era 'swordfish' discovered in outback Australia
"Extremely rare" fossils from a swordfish-like creature which lived 100 million years ago have been discovered in the Australian outback. Two families on holiday unearthed the prehistoric predator at a free fossil-finding site in north-west Queensland. The remains are thought to be from the Australopachycormus hurleyi, a 3m-long ray-finned fish with a pointed snout. "Part of what makes this specimen so special is that it is so complete," Dr Patrick Smith told the BBC.
10-14-16 Cave art: Etchings hailed as 'Iberia's most spectacular'
Cave art: Etchings hailed as 'Iberia's most spectacular'
Cave art as much as 14,500 years old has been pronounced "the most spectacular and impressive" ever discovered on the Iberian peninsula. About 50 etchings were found in the Basque town of Lekeitio. They include horses, bison, goats and - in a radical departure from previously discovered Palaeolithic art in the Biscay province - two lions. Some depictions are also much bigger than those found reviously - with one horse about 5ft long.
10-13-16 Amoeba uses some of same molecular machinery as more complex organisms
Amoeba uses some of same molecular machinery as more complex organisms
Capsaspora owczarzaki, a unicellular organism closely related to animals, uses molecular tools shared by multicellular organisms to move through its different life stages. Scaling up from one cell to many may have been a small step rather than a giant leap for early life on Earth. A single-celled organism closely related to animals controls its life cycle using a molecular toolkit much like the one animals use to give their cells different roles, scientists report October 13 in Developmental Cell. “Animals are regarded as this very special branch, as in, there had to be so many innovations to be an animal,” says David Booth, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley who wasn’t part of the study. But this research shows “a lot of the machinery was there millions of years before animals evolved.”
10-13-16 Spiders can hear you walking and talking from across the room
Spiders can hear you walking and talking from across the room
Even though they lack ears, it seems that spiders can “hear” everyday sounds up to several metres away with their leg hairs. Here’s a comforting thought. When you arrive home and open the front door or enter your bedroom, the spiders can hear you. It has long been known that spiders can hear sounds via leg hairs that bend in response to vibrations arriving through the air or through solid objects such as floors or walls. But until now, we thought they could only hear airborne vibrations a few centimetres or “spider lengths” away at most. It now seems that this same approach actually lets them hear sounds up to 5 metres away. Gil Menda at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his colleagues were studying a type of jumping spider, Phidippus audax, that they assumed relied almost completely on sight and vibrations they can feel through other objects, such as leaves or floorboards. But microelectrodes implanted in the spiders’ brains showed that neurons responded to sounds such as chairs scraping and people clapping even when the noises were made 3 to 5 metres away.
10-13-16 Erasing stigma needed in mental health care
Erasing stigma needed in mental health care
Family, community attitudes deter depressed, suicidal people from getting effective help. Close ties among residents of one affluent town have led to intense pressures for kids to achieve and keep emotional troubles to themselves, contributing to a recent string of suicides, researchers say. Stigma that discourages help-seeking also arises in the families of many depressed individuals, other scientists find. Scientists, politicians, clinicians, police officers and medical workers agree on one thing: The U.S. mental health system needs a big fix. Too few people get the help they need for mental ailments and emotional turmoil that can destroy livelihoods and lives. A report in the October JAMA Internal Medicine, for instance, concludes that more than 70 percent of U.S. adults who experience depression don’t receive treatment for it. Much attention focuses on developing better psychiatric medications and talk therapies. But those tactics may not be enough. New research suggests that the longstanding but understudied problem of stigma leaves many of those suffering mental ailments feeling alone, often unwilling to seek help and frustrated with treatment when they do.
10-13-16 Quadriplegic man feels touch on robotic hand with brain implant
Quadriplegic man feels touch on robotic hand with brain implant
A person who is paralysed from the neck down has felt the sensation of touch from a robotic hand for the first time, thanks to electrodes inserted in his brain. This could be the most touchy-feely robotic limb yet. For the first time, brain stimulation has made it possible for a paralysed person to experience the sensation of touch via a bionic hand. Robert Gaunt at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his team achieved this by implanting electrodes in the brain of Nathan Copeland, a 28-year-old quadriplegic. These were inserted into the region of the brain that registers touch from the hand, and linked to a robotic hand in the same room via a computer. When this robotic hand was touched, it triggered stimulation of Copeland’s brain. “He feels these sensations coming from his own paralysed hand,” says Gaunt. When blindfolded, Copeland could correctly tell which of the robotic hand’s fingers Gaunt was touching 80 per cent of the time. This is the first time someone has had electrodes implanted in their somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that registers touch. Previous work has focused on the motor cortex instead, enabling paralysed people to make bionic arms move using their thoughts – for example, to drink a cup of coffee.
10-12-16 Dementia risk linked to air pollution and lack of vitamin D
Dementia risk linked to air pollution and lack of vitamin D
The first comprehensive review of which environmental factors are associated with dementia has identified links to pollution, pesticides and even power lines. Many say dementia is a scarier prospect than cancer. But there may be new ways to reduce the risk of dementia, hints the first comprehensive review of the influence of environment on its incidence. The causes of dementia are not completely understood. Around a third of an individual’s risk seems to be down to their genes, while health factors like weight, exercise and cardiovascular health account for about 20 per cent. The remainder is something of a mystery. Our environment probably has a role to play, says Tom Russ at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Looking at 60 past studies, Russ’s team found plenty of evidence that air pollution is associated with dementia. “There weren’t any studies that didn’t find a link between air pollution and dementia,” says Russ. “Particulate matter, nitric oxides, ozone or carbon monoxide – all were linked to dementia.” There was also a clear link with vitamin D deficiency, and a weaker association with passive smoking and occupational exposure to pesticides. More surprising was the link between dementia and living close to power lines. “There’s not a lot of evidence, but what there is seems to be reasonably robust,” says Russ. “It’s a small association, and I’m not sure what the mechanism would be.”
10-12-16 Speaking a second language changes how you see the world
Speaking a second language changes how you see the world
There are two versions of the writer Lauren Collins. There is the English-speaking Lauren, who, presumably, is the Lauren primarily responsible for writing her (wonderful) new memoir, When in French. And then there is the French-speaking Lauren, the one tasked with navigating a marriage and a life in a second language. In her new book, she tells the story of falling in love with a Frenchman, marrying him, and relocating with him to Switzerland; a passage toward the end depicts one of the sillier but still salient differences between the two Laurens: The dueling selves she speaks of points to a tantalizing question: Is the you that exists in one linguistic context different from the you that exists in another? Speakers of multiple languages often believe so. (Webmaster's comment: Our language defines how we think and what we think. If our language does not embace a concept then how can we think about it? It's much more difficult.)
10-12-16 Danish anglers urged to catch 80,000 escaped trout
Danish anglers urged to catch 80,000 escaped trout
Up to 80,000 farmed rainbow trout have been accidentally released into the sea in Denmark, prompting a call for anglers to try to catch them. The accident happened when a cargo ship crashed into a fish farm on the Horsens Fjord on the Jutland peninsula. There are fears that the fish, weighing about 3kg (6lb 10oz) each, could disrupt the reproduction of other trout species. A local environmentalist urged "anyone with fishing gear to... go fishing". Soren Knabe, chair of the environmental group Vandpleje Fyn and a member of the Danish Angler's Association, told the Copenhagen Post that it was the worst possible time for rainbow trout to be released into Danish waters. "Sea trout are currently coming up into Funen streams to spawn, and sea trout eggs are a favourite food for rainbow trout," said Mr Knabe, referring to Funen island, south of the farm. (Webmaster's comment: Any attempt to contain a modified species from escaping into the wild has always failed!)
10-12-16 Chicxulub 'dinosaur crater' investigation begins in earnest
Chicxulub 'dinosaur crater' investigation begins in earnest
Scientists have obtained remarkable new insights into the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. They have been examining rocks from the crater that the 15km-wide space object dug out of what is now the Gulf of Mexico some 66 million years ago. The team says it can see evidence in these materials for how life returned to the scene soon after the calamity. Descendants of these small organisms are likely thriving today in amongst the crater's smashed up materials. The international project has shipped the hundreds of metres it drilled from beneath the Gulf floor earlier this year to the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, at the University of Bremen, Germany.
10-12-16 Western contact with China began long before Marco Polo, experts say
Western contact with China began long before Marco Polo, experts say
China and the West were in contact more than 1,500 years before European explorer Marco Polo arrived in China, new findings suggest. rchaeologists say inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today's Xian, may have come from Ancient Greece. They also say ancient Greek artisans could have been training locals there in the Third Century BC. Polo's 13th Century journey to China was the first to be well-documented. However, Chinese historians recorded much earlier visits by people thought by some to have been emissaries from the Roman Empire during the Second and Third Centuries AD. "We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor's China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we formerly thought," said Senior Archaeologist Li Xiuzhen, from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum.
10-12-16 Virus stole poison genes from black widow spider
Virus stole poison genes from black widow spider
A virus stole the gene coding for the poison of black widow spiders, scientists have found. The WO virus infects bacteria - and is harmless to animals - yet it possesses genes that are closely related to ones found in insects and spiders. The virus probably uses the genes to help it infiltrate animal cells to reach the bacteria. The findings have been outlined in the journal Nature Communications.
10-11-16 Young ovaries rejuvenate older mice and extend their lifespan
Young ovaries rejuvenate older mice and extend their lifespan
Receiving young ovaries turns back the clock in older female mice, enabling them to live longer. Could it keep people young too? Ovaries may hold the secret for holding back ageing in females. Swapping an older mouse’s ovaries for young ones seems to reverse the effects of ageing on the immune system and metabolism of female mice, making them live longer. Could people reap the same benefits? As we age, our metabolism slows and our immune system runs out of steam. Older people are more likely to have severe cold and flu symptoms, probably because they have fewer fresh immune cells left. And a slower metabolism means that glucose stays in the blood stream for longer after eating a meal. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage organs. But experiments in mice suggest that transplanting organs from a younger individual could reverse these changes. Jeffrey Mason at Utah State University in Logan removed the ovaries of 10 mice that were 12 months old and had gone through oestropause, a transition similar to the human menopause. He replaced these with ovaries taken from 60-day old mice – roughly equivalent to people in their early 20s in terms of ageing.
10-11-16 Superflexible, 3-D printed “bones” trigger new growth
Superflexible, 3-D printed “bones” trigger new growth
Material could help surgeons replace damaged or broken bones. New 3-D printed bone scaffolds may speed up the healing process, researchers say. A highly flexible 3-D printed scaffold used to repair broken or damaged bones. “Hyperelastic bones” don’t impart Stretch Armstrong abilities, but they could give surgeons a quick, inexpensive way to repair bone breaks. Created by Ramille Shah, a materials science engineer at Northwestern University in Chicago, and colleagues, the new superflexible material can be 3-D printed into femurs, skullcaps and other bone shapes. The durable material is a mix of an elastic polymer plus hydroxyapatite, a calcium mineral found in human bones and teeth. Once implanted, the material’s mineral makeup encourages real bone to start growing within a month to replace the scaffold, the team reported in the Sept. 28 Science Translational Medicine. So far, the “bones” have been tested only in animals. In rats, spinal implants stimulated tissue and bone growth just as well as natural grafts, with no signs of rejection. In a macaque with skull damage, an implant almost seamlessly integrated with the monkey’s natural skull tissue within a month. Because the material is malleable, surgeons can fix it in place without glue or sutures, Shah says. A future of easily replacing missing, damaged or deformed bones may no longer be such a stretch. (Webmaster's comment: We are reaching the human ability of "Self-Evolving")
10-11-16 There's a big change coming to the flu vaccine
There's a big change coming to the flu vaccine
r the past eight years, flu shots around the world have contained a virus that was retrieved from a sick person in California in the spring of 2009, in the earliest days of the H1N1 — or swine flu — pandemic. No more. Recently, the World Health Organization recommended that flu vaccine manufacturers swap out the component that is based on that virus with an updated version. It is uncommon for a flu virus to remain in the vaccine for such an extended period as the current one. "A/California had a good run," Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza epidemiologist at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control in Vancouver, said of the virus that is being discarded. The change, which will first come into effect in the flu shots for the 2017 Southern Hemisphere winter, is good news. It's an indication that advances in flu science — particularly relating to monitoring small changes in viruses and figuring out how that evolution dictates who and how many people might get sick in a flu season — may be helping scientists fine-tune flu-fighting strategy.
10-11-16 Virus steals black widow poison gene to help it attack
Virus steals black widow poison gene to help it attack
For the first time a virus that targets bacteria has been found to have genes lifted from non-bacterial cells – those of the black widow spider. In one of the most unexpected genetic thefts ever, a virus that infects bacteria appears to have stolen the gene coding for the poison of the black widow spiders. The virus, named WO, probably uses the gene to help it attack its targets. Viruses often steal genes from their hosts. But because bacterial viruses – also called bacteriophages – only attack bacteria, genes from other domains of life are usually beyond their reach. That would include higher organisms known as eukaryotes, which have cells that contain a nucleus. WO, however, faces an unusual challenge: its targets are Wolbachia bacteria living within the cells of insects, spiders, and some other animals. That means that for it to infect new bacterial cells, WO has to escape not only from its existing Wolbachia host, but also from the eukaryotic cell – and then the virus particles have to evade the eukaryote’s powerful immune system.
10-10-16 How much water should you drink a day? Your throat will tell you
How much water should you drink a day? Your throat will tell you
When you’ve had enough to drink, it becomes harder to swallow water – a finding that suggests you shouldn’t force yourself to drink eight glasses a day. I’m drinking a big glass of ice water after getting thirsty, and it’s flowing easily down my throat like a river. But a study of thirsty and well hydrated people suggests this isn’t always the case. We rarely pay attention to the business of swallowing, but it may play a subtle role in controlling our fluid intake, on top of our conscious feelings of thirst. If we are dehydrated, swallowing is effortless; if we are overhydrated, swallowing feels more difficult, putting us off drinking, according to a study by Michael Farrell at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and his team. “Normally it’s something we are not really conscious of – away it goes,” says Farrell. But when his team asked volunteers to rate the sensation of taking a small sip of water, they found that people who had recently drunk a lot of water said it took much more effort to swallow than those who were mildly hydrated – their difficult ratings rose from one out of ten to nearly five.
10-10-16 No evidence that plant-based alternatives to HRT actually work
No evidence that plant-based alternatives to HRT actually work
Phytoestrogens are often seen as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy, but we don't know how beneficial – or harmful – they really are. When the menopause hits and oestrogen levels tumble, it can be difficult to know whether to opt for hormone replacement therapy. The drugs can help with the symptoms, but can also increase a woman’s risk of some cancers. It’s no surprise that many women seek an alternative approach. Plant-based phytoestrogens, which resemble the body’s own form of the hormone, are found in foods such as soybeans and flax seed (linseed), and can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body. Many have long assumed that these compounds are good for us – they have even been thought to underlie the long and healthy lives of Japanese people, who tend to eat a lot of soy products. Phytoestrogen supplements are also readily available. But the problem is that we don’t really know what they do. Phytoestrogens in the diet can have different effects, depending on which part of the body they are acting on. In some tissues, they seem to mimic the effects of oestrogen, while in others they may block the effects of the hormone.
10-10-16 Exclusive: ‘3-parent’ baby method already used for infertility
Exclusive: ‘3-parent’ baby method already used for infertility
Two pregnant women in Ukraine are hoping to have the first babies created using three-parent techniques to treat infertility, rather than genetic disease. The first babies to be created using a “three-parent” method to overcome their parents’ infertility are due to be born in early 2017. New Scientist has learned that two women in Ukraine are both more than 20 weeks pregnant with fetuses created using such a technique. The babies would be the first born to women who had the procedure to treat infertility, rather than to prevent hereditary disease, but some have criticised this approach, calling for it to be banned until there is more evidence that the embryos it creates are healthy. The technique used is the same as that approved last year by the UK parliament – the only country in the world to legalise the procedure – although there it is allowed only to prevent parents passing hereditary diseases to their children.
10-10-16 Snake fools attackers by changing its eyes to look like a viper
Snake fools attackers by changing its eyes to look like a viper
It looked like a non-venomous snake but, when grabbed, its eyes changed into those of a deadly relation — a never-before-seen behaviour in mock vipers. You pick up a harmless snake and it turns into a deadly viper. This is what happened to Colin Strine from Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, during a field trip with his team to a biodiversity hotspot in the north-east of the country where at least 176 snake species are found. He instinctively dropped it and the snake fled. But it turns out Strine might have been fooled by a never-before-seen behaviour: a snake changing the shape of its eye pupils when attacked to resemble those of a deadly relation. Further investigation revealed that the snake he picked up really was harmless: a mock viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus) that has evolved several features to look like its venomous distant cousins, Malayan pit vipers (Calloselasma rhodostoma).
10-7-16 A teenager in India has a 20cm (8 inch) 'tail' removed from his back
A teenager in India has a 20cm (8 inch) 'tail' removed from his back
A teenager with a 20cm (8 inch) "tail" growing at the bottom of his spine has undergone surgery to have it removed. It started to appear on the 18-year-old's back just after his 14th birthday. He and his family, from Nagpur in India, had kept it a secret because they were worried he would be bullied. They finally went to see a doctor after it grew too long to hide - and had begun to develop a bone inside. It's thought to be the longest ever recorded on a human - although cases are very rare. (Webmaster's comment: Strongest evidence that we evolved from the primates. What more proof do you need?)
10-7-16 The strange science of obsessive love
The strange science of obsessive love
After a breakup there's the expectation that you'll eventually move on. But what if you can't? What if the impulse to think about an ex became all-consuming — months, even years later? What if it never goes away? You'll find a few sufferers of this particular hardship on the "Limerence" subreddit, a message board where the brokenhearted and obsessed bare their souls. Some simply can't stop thinking about their unrequited crushes: "I probably think about her a hundred times a day," one user wrote, "right before going to sleep and right after waking up." Psychologist Albert Wakin, a professor at Sacred Heart University, has spent a chunk of his career studying this type of lovelorn suffering. He thinks the problem is common enough that it's time for the psychology field to officially recognize that love can veer out of control and enter the realm of pathology. He hopes that obsessive love, or "limerence," will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), though he doubts he'll live to see the day: Psychology and neuroscience research has only just begun to understand why romance has such a potent grip — and why, for all the people who can eventually get over a breakup, there are some who can't.
10-7-16 The baby with three biological parents
The baby with three biological parents
A baby boy with genetic information from three parents has been born with the help of a controversial new in vitro fertilization technique. The procedure, called mitochondrial transfer, was created to prevent women with genetic mutations from passing along devastating diseases to their children. The first beneficiaries were a Jordanian couple who had lost two previous children and four pregnancies to Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system. To enable them to have a healthy baby, New York–based fertility specialist Dr. John Zhang took the nucleus from one of the woman’s eggs and inserted it into a healthy donor’s egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg contains the donor’s mitochondria but genetic information from the mother that will determine traits like eye and hair color; it was then fertilized with sperm from the father. About 99.9 percent of the embryo’s DNA came from his mother and father, with a tiny percentage from the donor mitochondria. The boy, now 6 months old, is healthy, but his birth has sparked criticism, since three-parent embryo techniques are banned in the U.S. because of fears they might lead to genetic abnormalities. Zhang performed the procedure in Mexico, and tells New Scientist he was justified in what he did. “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he said.
10-7-16 Nerve cell migration after birth may explain infant brain’s flexibility
Nerve cell migration after birth may explain infant brain’s flexibility
Frontal lobe development influenced by cellular latecomers, study finds. New nerve cells in infants’ brains migrate to the frontal lobe after birth, where they help regulate other neural messages. Baby humans’ brain cells take awhile to get situated after birth, it turns out. A large group of young nerve cells moves into the frontal lobe during infants’ first few months of life, scientists report in the Oct. 7 Science. The mass migration might help explain how human babies’ brains remain so malleable for a window of time after birth. Most of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, move to their places in the frontal lobe before birth. Then, as babies interact with the world, the neurons link together into circuits controlling learning, memory and social behavior. Those circuits are highly malleable in early infancy: Connections between neurons are formed and severed repeatedly. The arrival of new neurons during the first few months of life could help account for the circuits’ prolonged flexibility in babies, says study coauthor Eric Huang, a neuropathologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
10-6-16 Omega-3 oils in farmed salmon 'halve in five years'
Omega-3 oils in farmed salmon 'halve in five years'
Levels of beneficial omega-3 oils in farmed salmon have fallen significantly in the past five years, a study shows. BBC News has learned that, on average, levels of omega-3s halved in the fish over that period. Despite this, the analysis shows that farmed salmon is still one of the richest sources of these fatty acids. But the industry is exploring new ways to arrest the decline - which appears to be due to the type of feed given to the farmed fish. The study was carried out by researchers at Stirling University. Prof Douglas Tocher, who led the research, told BBC News: "About five years ago, a portion of Atlantic salmon of 130g was able to deliver three-and-a-half grams of beneficial omega-3. This is actually our weekly recommended intake. Now, the level of omega-3 has halved," he said. "Therefore, instead of eating one portion of farmed salmon, we would need to eat two portions of farmed salmon," he explained. (Webmaster's comment: Just like all our crops and farmed animals, their nutritional value has dramatically fallen. Chemical fertilizers and nutrients, and artificial hormones and antibiotics, do not make nutritional food.)
10-6-16 How brain cells move through newborn babies’ brains
How brain cells move through newborn babies’ brains
For months after birth, new neurons make their way through a baby's brain. Now researchers have had the best look yet at this process in action. Continuing for months after birth, armies of neurons migrate through a baby’s brain, until they reach their destination. Now researchers have had the best look yet at how these cells move in human brains. Eric Huang at the University of California, San Francisco, and his team looked at the brains of infants who had died because of heart defects and other problems unrelated to their brains. They took thin slices of the brains and kept the cells alive in a dish for up to two days. Under the microscope, the team watched some neurons with the characteristic elongated shape of migrating cells as they continued their journey. Sometimes the neurons seemed to be using blood vessels as tracks to guide their path.
10-6-16 Flower hijacks the fragrance of attacked bees to imprison flies
Flower hijacks the fragrance of attacked bees to imprison flies
The plant attracts pollinating flies to a temporary prison by mimicking the odour of their favourite food: bits of dead honeybees killed by spiders. The scent of a South African plant mimics the chemicals honeybees release when they’re under attack. Scavenging flies on the lookout for a meal are then tricked into pollinating the plant’s flowers. Many plants attract insect pollinators by exuding substances meant to mimic the sexy smell of potential mates or the alluring aroma of rotting flesh. But we don’t know the details of how most of the deceptive flora hoodwink their visitors, says Stefan Dötterl at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Dötterl and his colleagues focused on solving the mystery for Ceropegia sandersonii, a South African plant that produces “pitfall flowers”, umbrella-shaped blossoms that keep pollinators trapped within their petals for about a day, before releasing them, now packed with pollen.
10-6-16 Flower lures pollinators with smell of honeybee fear
Flower lures pollinators with smell of honeybee fear
The Ceropegia sandersonii flower tricks carnivorous flies into pollinating it with false promises of a honeybee meal. A South African flower catches flies with honey, or in this case, the smell of honeybees. Several plant species lure potential pollinators with false promises of sweet nectar, sex or even rotting flesh. But Ceropegia sandersonii attracts its sole pollinator, Desmometopa flies, with the scent of fear. The flower mimics the chemical signals, or pheromones, released by alarmed western honeybees (Apis mellifera) during a predator attack. For flies that feast on the bees’ guts, it’s the perfect bait, Stefan Dötterl, a chemical ecologist at the University of Salzburg in Austria, and colleagues report online October 6 in Current Biology.
10-6-16 Atlantic monument is home to unique and varied creatures
Atlantic monument is home to unique and varied creatures
President Obama designates pristine area to protect sea life off New England coast. Spied in the Atlantic canyons and seamounts in 2014, this dumbo octopus is a deep-sea umbrella octopus with fins that resemble the lovable cartoon elephant. Two stretches of ocean about 210 kilometers southeast of Cape Cod have become the Atlantic Ocean’s first U.S. marine national monument. The 12,725-square-kilometer area is called the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The new designation is intended to help protect the region’s fragile deep-sea ecosystem, which includes whales, sea turtles and corals, by gradually phasing out commercial fishing, including for crab and lobster.
10-6-16 Male fertility treatment seems to pass infertility on to sons
Male fertility treatment seems to pass infertility on to sons
A study of some of the first children conceived using the ICSI technique suggests that, as adults, they have lower sperm counts than boys conceived naturally. A small study of men who were conceived in the 1990s using a now common fertility treatment suggests that they are themselves less fertile. Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is a technique that injects sperm directly into an egg to fertilise it. This method is commonly used to overcome various types of male infertility – including low sperm count, abnormal sperm, or sperm that doesn’t move well – and was used in about half of IVF treatments using non-frozen embryos in the UK in 2013. Because the method can allow non-motile sperm to create an embryo, scientists have suspected that it can pass genetic causes of infertility to the next generation. Now there is some evidence that this could be the case. Comparing 54 men who were conceived using ICSI with 57 men whose parents conceived naturally, Andre Van Steirteghem at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and his colleagues have found that the ICSI men had almost half the sperm concentration of the control group, and a two-fold lower count of motile sperm. “These findings are not unexpected,” says Steirteghem. “Before ICSI was carried out, prospective parents were informed that it may well be that their sons may have impaired sperm like their fathers.” These parents still decided to try the technique, thinking that their sons could themselves use ICSI if necessary, he says.
10-5-16 Robot surgeons and artificial life: the promise of tiny machines
Robot surgeons and artificial life: the promise of tiny machines
The 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded for the design and synthesis of the world's smallest machines. The work has overtones of science fiction, but holds huge promise in fields as diverse as medicine, materials and energy. All grand endeavours start small. This is especially true of efforts to develop nano-scale machines (1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair), which are always destined to remain tiny however big our ambitions for them grow. It's difficult to trace the development of molecular machines to one person or scientific step. But a 1959 lecture by the celebrated physicist Richard Feynman is as good a point as any. His talk, given at an American Physical Society meeting in California and titled Plenty of Room at the Bottom, laid the conceptual foundations for nanotechnology.
10-5-16 115 might be as old as we can get thanks to our bodies’ limits
115 might be as old as we can get thanks to our bodies’ limits
Maximum lifespan is not rising in step with average lifespan. It could be that the human body has innate limits that prevent most getting any older than 115. OUR life expectancy has been climbing for decades – but how much further can we push it? The maximum lifespan for most people may be around 115, because of the innate limits of the human body, according to new research. The few who have gone beyond this age are rare outliers, says Jan Vijg of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. By analysing demographic records, Vijg’s team has found that maximum lifespan has not been rising in step with the average lifespan. The record for the oldest living person climbed to around 115 in the 1990s, after which it has broadly plateaued. Although Jeanne Calment, a French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan on record, reached 122 before she died in 1997, her record has gone unbroken for nearly two decades. It shows we are not seeing increasing numbers breaking the 115 barrier, says Vijg. “115 is like a borderline – you can’t cross that unless you’re an exceptional individual.”
10-5-16 Why we worry: Understanding anxiety and how to help it
Why we worry: Understanding anxiety and how to help it
When do normal worries become an anxiety disorder? Test your anxiety levels, find out what causes them to spiral out of control, and discover how to tackle them. Test your anxiety levels: Take the test doctors use to help them decide whether a person is experiencing pathological levels of anxiety. Most of us are familiar with the dry mouth, racing heart and knotted stomach that are the hallmarks of feeling anxious. Usually this is a fleeting response to danger and uncertainty. In some people, however, the state of high alert won’t switch off. Their anxiety becomes so draining it is impossible to leave the house or function in daily life. One woman feels agitated and lightheaded each morning when she wakes. She worries about the accidents that might befall her if she travels to work, but also about what would happen if she had nothing planned for the day. Another avoids work, friends or even walking her dog in case it triggers another panic attack. One man finds it difficult to pick up the phone for fear he will mash his words and be misunderstood. These are real cases of people who have sought help for their anxiety. Their experiences aren’t unusual. Anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety and phobias – are the most prevalent mental health problem in the US and Europe, and a growing number of reports from other regions suggest they could be a global concern. In the West, they cost healthcare systems more than $40 billion each year. On average 1 in 6 of us will contend with an anxiety disorder at some stage in our lives – women more than men.
10-5-16 Animal hybrids may hold clues to Neandertal-human interbreeding
Animal hybrids may hold clues to Neandertal-human interbreeding
Physical changes in the bodies of other species could give insights into hominid history. To understand signs of interbreeding among humans, Neandertals and other ancient hominids, scientists are studying physical changes in the bodies of various animal hybrids. Neandertals are the comeback kids of human evolution. A mere decade ago, the burly, jut-jawed crowd was known as a dead-end species that lost out to us, Homo sapiens. But once geneticists began extracting Neandertal DNA from fossils and comparing it with DNA from present-day folks, the story changed. Long-gone Neandertals rode the double helix express back to evolutionary relevance as bits of their DNA turned up in the genomes of living people. A molecular window into interbreeding between Neandertals and ancient humans suddenly flung open. Thanks to ancient hookups, between 20 and 35 percent of Neandertals’ genes live on in various combinations from one person to another. About 1.5 to 4 percent of DNA in modern-day non-Africans’ genomes comes from Neandertals, a population that died out around 40,000 years ago.
10-5-16 Weird orange crocodiles found gorging on bats in Gabon’s caves
Weird orange crocodiles found gorging on bats in Gabon’s caves
One population of the world’s smallest crocodile has moved underground where they pluck bats off the walls – and corrosive droppings change their skin colour. Caves are scary places – especially ones filled with crocodiles. “I was crawling through the cave and suddenly there were two red eyes,” says explorer Olivier Testa. “It was frightening!” In 2010, he was part of an expedition into Gabon’s Abanda cave system following a tip-off about a population of dwarf crocodiles living there. While crocs sometimes retreat underground during droughts, this is the first population documented taking up long-term residence in caves. The team’s crocodile expert, Matthew Shirley from the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, soon realised why they had done so: a bounty of ready-made snacks was falling into the water or lining up to be plucked off the cave walls. “You walk in and there are just bats and crickets everywhere,” he says. “The crocodiles are pretty good hunters anyway, but even if they didn’t have to pull bats off the walls, there are individuals falling to the floor all the time.”
10-3-16 Endangered frog recovers thanks to resistance to deadly fungus
Endangered frog recovers thanks to resistance to deadly fungus
A Yosemite frog that lost 93 per cent of its habitat and was in decline for over a century has started recovering, raising hope for the survival of other amphibians, too. For decades a deadly fungus has been slaughtering amphibians around the world, driving many to the brink of extinction or even beyond. But now one frog’s recovery shows that, with a little luck and habitat preservation, some amphibians may be able to evolve resistance to the fungus. The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) lives in the mountains of California, but its population has been in decline for more than 100 years. But there is hope. Knapp and his colleagues looked at more than 7000 population surveys of the frog conducted over the past 20 years in Yosemite National Park, and found that frog numbers have been recovering over that time, by an average of 11 per cent per year.
10-3-16 Artificial killer cells mimic life as they wipe out opponents
TArtificial killer cells mimic life as they wipe out opponents
Protocells pitted against one another simulate living predators and their quarry, demonstrating behaviour that could one day deliver drugs. Even artificial cells can be killers. Cell-like structures made in a lab have been designed to target and obliterate another population of protocells. This mimics a crucial step on the path from the earliest life to today’s elaborate global ecosystem: creatures eating one another. The hope is that it could one day be developed into a new way for targeted drug delivery. And it might just help us understand how complex cellular communities first evolved. Protocells are thought to have been the microscopic precursors to living cells. Scientists build artificial versions of them from things such as fatty acids and proteins to study how life might have originated on Earth. One way to do that is to study interactions between different kinds of protocells, an area that has largely been neglected in favour of tinkering with individual protocells, says Stephen Mann at the University of Bristol, UK. So he and his colleagues created a community of artificial cells to see if they could get them to display the classic ecological setup of predators and prey.
10-3-16 Big Viking families nurtured murder
Big Viking families nurtured murder
Killers more likely to belong to large extended clans, victims to small vulnerable ones. Killings in Viking-era Iceland, such as the one depicted here, were largely carried out by individuals whose families greatly outnumbered those of their victims, researchers say. Disparities in family sizes may have long influenced who got killed by whom in small-scale societies. Murder was a calculated family affair among Iceland’s early Viking settlers. And the bigger the family, the more bloodthirsty. Data from three family histories spanning six generations support the idea that disparities in family size have long influenced who killed whom in small-scale societies. These epic written stories, or sagas, record everything from births and marriages to deals and feuds. Iceland’s Viking killers had on average of nearly three times as many biological relatives and in-laws as their victims did, says a team led by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford. Prolific killers responsible for five or more murders had the greatest advantage in kin numbers, the scientists report online September 20 in Evolution and Human Behavior.
10-3-16 Men are more violent when there are more women around
Men are more violent when there are more women around
Contrary to conventional wisdom, a surplus of men in a society doesn’t equal more violence – in fact, the more men, the better-behaved they become. More men inevitably means more testosterone-fuelled violence, right? Wrong, according to a comprehensive analysis exploring how a surplus of men or women affect crime rates across the US. In areas where men outnumber women, there were lower rates of murders and assaults as well as fewer sex-related crimes, such as rapes, sex offences and prostitution. Conversely, higher rates of these crimes occurred in areas where there were more women than men. Ryan Schacht of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and his colleagues analysed sex ratio data from all 3082 US counties, provided by the US Census Bureau in 2010. They compared this with crime data for the same year, issued by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. They only included information about women and men of reproductive age. For all five types of offence analysed, rising proportions of men in a county correlated with fewer crimes– even when accounting for other potential contributing factors such as poverty. The results suggest that current policies aimed at defusing violence and crime by reducing the amount of men in male-dominated areas may backfire.
10-3-16 Medicine Nobel for cell recycling work
Medicine Nobel for cell recycling work
The 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine goes to Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan for discoveries about the secrets of how cells can remain healthy by recycling waste. He located genes that regulate the cellular "self eating" process known as autophagy. Dr Ohsumi's work is important because it helps explain what goes wrong in a range of illnesses, from cancer to Parkinson's. Errors in these genes cause disease. Last year's prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and other tropical diseases.
10-3-16 Deciphering cell’s recycling machinery earns Nobel
Deciphering cell’s recycling machinery earns Nobel
Yoshinori Ohsumi honored for studies of autophagy. Yoshinori Ohsumi, a biologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work uncovering how cells break down old materials — a process critical for keeping cells healthy. Figuring out the nuts and bolts of the cell’s recycling machinery has earned the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has received the prize for his work on autophagy, a method for breaking down and recycling large pieces of cellular junk, such as clusters of damaged proteins or worn-out organelles. Keeping this recycling machinery in good working condition is crucial for cells’ health (SN: 3/26/11, p. 18). Not enough recycling can cause cellular trash to build up and lead to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Too much recycling, on the other hand, has been linked to cancer.
10-3-16 Japanese scientist wins Nobel for revealing secrets of cellular recycling
Japanese scientist wins Nobel for revealing secrets of cellular recycling
The discovery of the molecular mechanisms behind “self eating” or autophagy — a process cells use to break down and recycle parts that are no longer needed — has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Yoshinori Ohsumi of Tokyo Institute of Technology won the prize for his pioneering work on the topic. Autophagy gone wrong can lead to diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Scientists knew that cells could break down unwanted materials, but they didn’t understand how the process worked or how important it was to healthy, functioning cells. Ohsumi’s research in yeast in the early 1990s identified key genes involved in autophagy. Later, he studied the proteins encoded by these genes to understand how different pieces of the autophagy machinery worked inside the cell.
10-2-16 New book tells strange tales of evolution
New book tells strange tales of evolution
Collection features creatures with seemingly bizarre lifestyles. A “brainwashed” caterpillar, whose every instinct is controlled by wasp larvae, is one of many curious species featured in a new book. The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar Matt Simon Penguin Books, $20. Writer Matt Simon begins his new book with a bleak outlook on life: “In the animal kingdom, life sucks and then you die.” But thanks to evolution — which Simon calls “the most majestic problem-solving force on planet Earth” — some critters have peculiar adaptations that make life suck a little less (though sometimes at the expense of other species). From mustachioed toads to pink fairy armadillos, Simon’s debut book, The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, recounts an eclectic cadre of animals that use creative and often bizarre solutions to find love, a babysitter, a meal or a place to crash.