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101 Evolution News Articles
for January 2017
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1-31-17 LSD’s grip on brain protein could explain drug’s long-lasting effects
LSD’s grip on brain protein could explain drug’s long-lasting effects
Molecular modeling called ‘first snapshot of LSD in action’. A protein that senses serotonin in the brain traps LSD inside a pocket and forms a lid over the opening. The lid moves aside occasionally, allowing LSD to escape. Locked inside a human brain protein, the hallucinogenic drug LSD takes an extra-long trip. New X-ray crystallography images reveal how an LSD molecule gets trapped within a protein that senses serotonin, a key chemical messenger in the brain. The protein, called a serotonin receptor, belongs to a family of proteins involved in everything from perception to mood. The work is the first to decipher the structure of such a receptor bound to LSD, which gets snared in the protein for hours. That could explain why “acid trips” last so long, study coauthor Bryan Roth and colleagues report January 26 in Cell. It’s “the first snapshot of LSD in action,” he says. “Until now, we had no idea how it worked at the molecular level.”

1-31-17 Pom-pom crabs prune their living decorations like bonsai trees
Pom-pom crabs prune their living decorations like bonsai trees
These teensy crustaceans tear one anemone into two, splitting them into identical pairs that then grow as new, living pom-poms on their claws. Keep your friends close but your anemones closer. Boxer crabs have this lesson down pat. In each claw, these miniscule crabs hold even smaller anemones. It’s these accessories that give the crustaceans their other popular name – pom-pom crabs. At just a few millimetres wide and heavily camouflaged to mimic fuzzy algae, these itty-bitty crabs are tricky to find in the shallow waters of tidal zones on the Red Sea. “The crabs are quite camouflaged in their environment, but their anemones are what stick out,” says Yisrael Schnytzer, a marine biologist now at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “When you turn over a rock, you don’t see the crab, but you see these two little flashlights that are the anemones.” He placed pairs of crabs in aquariums, one holding anemones and one without, and found that they fight and steal one another’s anemones. “No one is ever hurt in these fights as far as we can tell,” he says. In most cases, the crab that started without anemones comes away with one, and in about half the cases it’s actually the crab holding anemones that started the sparring. “That’s strange,” Schnytzer says. “You’ve got some valuable resource you may be giving away. That leads us to think there’s something ritualistic here. Maybe they have to fight even if they don’t want to.” When they’re born, boxer crabs don’t have anemones. They don’t even have claws. They float around in their larval stage as they develop, but when they end up on the sea floor they acquire the anemones soon after they land, Schnytzer says.

1-31-17 What gives frog tongues the gift of grab
What gives frog tongues the gift of grab
Quick-switch saliva, squishy tissue combine to catch prey. A frog’s tongue strike demands subtle interplay between saliva and smooshable tissue. Frogs’ remarkable power to tongue-grab prey — some as big as mice or as oddly shaped as tarantulas — stems from a combo of peculiar saliva and a supersquishy tongue. The first detailed analysis of the stickiness of frog saliva shows that the fluid can shift rather abruptly from gooey to runny, says mechanical engineer Alexis Noel of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Those quick changes come in handy during the various phases of a single tongue strike. And it all works because the tongue itself is so soft, Noel and colleagues report February 1 in Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

1-31-17 'Startling' dinosaur protein discovery
'Startling' dinosaur protein discovery
Ancient proteins dating back 195 million years have been found inside a dinosaur bone. The discovery pushes back the oldest evidence for preserved proteins by 100 million years. Scientists have also found traces of a mineral that probably came from the blood of the early Jurassic dinosaur. Soft tissues provide new insights into the biology of dinosaurs and how they evolved. They are rarely preserved during the process of fossilisation, during which bones and teeth are slowly transformed into "rock". Robert Reisz, a palaeontologist from the University of Toronto Mississauga, in Canada, said: "We hope to be able to learn more about the biology of these animals and the more we know about their soft tissues the more we will know about them overall. "We are actually looking at the preservation of the original materials that were in the living organism rather than an impression of the soft tissues that were there."

1-31-17 Map of Zika virus reveals how it shifts as it matures
Map of Zika virus reveals how it shifts as it matures
New look at the immature virus could hint at how Zika becomes infectious. Inside an immature Zika virus, the protein and RNA core contacts the inner layer of the viral membrane. Before an immature Zika virus becomes infectious, it does some major remodeling. In a fledgling virus particle, the inner protein and RNA core (shown in dark blue above, right) forms bridges to the membrane layer that surrounds it. As the virus matures, the core shuffles around and the bridges melt away. It’s the first time scientists have seen such rearrangement in the core of a flavivirus, the group that also includes the viruses that cause dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, says virologist Richard Kuhn of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Scientists don’t know why the immature Zika virus reshuffles its insides, Kuhn says — perhaps it helps the maturing virus become infectious. But that’s the next big question to answer, he says.

1-31-17 Restoring native plants 'boosts pollination'
Restoring native plants 'boosts pollination'
Removing invasive exotic plants from natural areas can act as a boost for wildlife, a study suggests. Bees, butterflies and birds returned to remote mountaintops in the Seychelles only six months after exotic plants were removed. Taking out exotic plants seems to make native plants more accessible to pollinators, say scientists. Plants have been moved around the world for centuries, meaning native and exotic plants often grow side-by-side. There has been debate over the loss of plant biodiversity in some parts of the world, as "alien" plants invade ecosystems. The study was carried out on the tropical island of Mahé in the Seychelles, an island archipelago in the Indian Ocean off East Africa.

1-31-17 Scientists find 'oldest human ancestor'
Scientists find 'oldest human ancestor'
Researchers have discovered the earliest known ancestor of humans - along with a vast range of other species. They say that fossilised traces of the 540-million-year-old creature are "exquisitely well preserved". The microscopic sea animal is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path that led to fish and - eventually - to humans. Details of the discovery from central China appear in Nature journal. The research team says that Saccorhytus is the most primitive example of a category of animals called "deuterostomes" which are common ancestors of a broad range of species, including vertebrates (backboned animals). Saccorhytus was about a millimetre in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed.

1-30-17 Ancestor of all vertebrates was a big mouth with no anus
Ancestor of all vertebrates was a big mouth with no anus
A tiny fossil from China could be the earliest of all deuterostomes, creatures that eventually led to evolution of all vertebrates, including humans. The ancestor of all vertebrates, including fish, reptiles and humans was a big mouth but apparently had no anus. The microscopic creature named Saccorhytus, after the sack-like features created by its elliptical body and large mouth, lived 540 million years ago. It was identified from microfossils found in China. “To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping,” says team member Simon Conway Morris, of the University of Cambridge, in the UK. Researchers believe it was about a millimetre in size, lived between grains of sand on the sea bed and had a large mouth relative to the rest of its body. They also think the creature was covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin, had some sort of muscle system which could have made contractile movements and allowed it to move by wriggling.

1-30-17 Being ‘hangry’ exists: why a lack of food can change your mood
Being ‘hangry’ exists: why a lack of food can change your mood
Falling blood sugar levels accompanying hunger do cause us to get angry, irritable and aggressive, even towards loved ones. Ever felt hungry and angry at the same time? There’s evidence that “hanger” is a real phenomenon, one that can affect your work and relationships. The main reason we become more irritable when hungry is because our blood glucose level drops. This can make it difficult for us to concentrate, and more likely to snap at those around us. Low blood sugar also triggers the release of stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which has been found to make people behave more aggressively towards those around them. This can all have an alarming effect on how you feel about other people – even those you love. A classic study of married couples asked them to stick pins into “voodoo dolls” that represented their loved ones, to reflect how angry they felt towards them. The volunteers then competed against their spouse in a game, in which the winner could blast loud noise through the loser’s headphones. The researchers tracked the participants’ blood glucose levels throughout. They found that when people had lower sugar levels, the longer the blasts of unpleasant noise they subjected their spouse to, and the more pins they stuck into their dolls. But while being hungry really does change your behaviour, the effects of hanger have sometimes been overstated. One study that attracted attention a few years ago found that judges are less likely to set lenient sentences the closer it gets to lunch.

1-30-17 Shark-inspired drug may help treat fibrosis, researchers say
Shark-inspired drug may help treat fibrosis, researchers say
Australian scientists hope a drug that mimics part of a shark's immune system may help treat an incurable lung disease. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) scars lung tissue, causing breathing to become progressively harder. It kills more than 5,000 people each year in the UK alone, according to the British Lung Foundation. Researchers hope a new drug, inspired by an antibody in the blood of sharks, can begin human trials next year. The drug, AD-114, was developed by researchers at Melbourne's La Trobe University and biotechnology company AdAlta. Initial testing successfully targeted fibrosis-causing cells by creating a human protein that imitated the shark's antibody, according to Dr Mick Foley, from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science. "Fibrosis is the end result of a lot of different insults and injuries," he told the BBC. "This molecule can kill the cells that cause fibrosis."

1-28-17 Seeds offer clue to domesticated plants' larger size
Seeds offer clue to domesticated plants' larger size
The seeds of domesticated plants could offer clues as to why cultivated crops are larger than their wild cousins, researchers have suggested. Increased size is common among domesticated plants but the reason for increased growth is little understood. The increase in the biomass is of interest to plant breeders as it could affect productivity, such as reducing grain yields, they added. The findings have been published in the journal Plant Biology. A team of researchers in Spain investigated the traits that were responsible for the difference in size. Comparing and contrasting various factors, such as biomass, leaf size and photosynthesis rates, the scientists were able to identify a number of characteristics that differed between domesticated plants and wild varieties.

1-27-17 Snooze patterns vary across cultures, opening eyes to evolution of sleep
Snooze patterns vary across cultures, opening eyes to evolution of sleep
Amount, timing of sleep is less important for health than sticking to routine. A Hadza forager in East Africa takes time out to catch a few z’s during the day. Naps enable the Hadza to catch up with their sleep after dozing an average of about 6.5 hours at night, researchers say. Evolution has reduced the quantity and boosted the quality of human sleep relative to other primates, they hold. Hunter-gatherers and farming villagers who live in worlds without lightbulbs or thermostats sleep slightly less at night than smartphone-toting city slickers, researchers say. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, people in societies without electricity do not sleep more than those in industrial societies like ours,” says UCLA psychiatrist and sleep researcher Jerome Siegel, who was not involved in the new research. Different patterns of slumber and wakefulness in each of these groups highlight the flexibility of human sleep — and also point to potential health dangers in how members of Western societies sleep, conclude evolutionary biologist David Samson of Duke University and colleagues. Compared with other primates, human evolution featured a shift toward sleeping more deeply over shorter time periods, providing more time for learning new skills and knowledge as cultures expanded, the researchers propose. Humans also evolved an ability to revise sleep schedules based on daily work schedules and environmental factors such as temperature.

1-27-17 Rogue antibody linked to severe second dengue infections
Rogue antibody linked to severe second dengue infections
Study probes connection between disease and low platelet count. In some people, fighting dengue virus can leave them with rogue antibodies that make a subsequent infection worse. The playground ditty “first the worst, second the best” isn’t always true when it comes to dengue fever. Some patients who contract the virus a second time can experience more severe symptoms. A rogue type of antibody may be to blame, researchers report in the Jan. 27 Science. Instead of protecting their host, the antibodies are commandeered by the dengue virus to help it spread, increasing the severity of the disease. Four closely related viruses cause dengue, a mosquito-transmitted disease marked by fever, muscle pain and other flulike symptoms. When a previously infected person contracts a second type of dengue, leftover antibodies can react with the new virus. Fewer than 15 percent of people with a second infection develop severe dengue disease. Those who do may produce a different type of antibody, says Taia Wang, an infectious diseases researcher with the Stanford University School of Medicine.

1-27-17 Why salmonella doesn’t want you to poop out
Why salmonella doesn’t want you to poop out
Salmonella interferes with losses in appetite because more food means more poop, which means more salmonella. Salmonella bacteria don’t want your body to starve on their account. The microbes’ motives, though, are (probably) purely poop-related. The body sometimes sacrifices appetite to fight off infection: Less energy for the host also means less energy for the pathogen. Understanding how bacteria cope with this tactic can inform treatments. When it reaches the gut, Salmonella enterica bacteria can trigger this type of anorexic response in their host, making it a good model for how microbes deal with less food. Researchers at the Salk Institute in California investigated salmonella fallout in mice. In lab tests, they found that the bacteria aren't as virulent when a mouse isn’t eating, and they use the vagus nerve, a superhighway connecting gut to brain, to encourage eating. The bacteria make a protein called SIrP that appears to block signals that dampen appetite.

1-27-17 A deadly superbug
A deadly superbug
A rare, drug-resistant superbug impervious to all 26 antibiotics available in the U.S. has claimed the life of a woman in Nevada. The patient, in her 70s, had been hospitalized with a broken leg in India, where drug-resistant bacteria are more common. She developed an infection in her blood, which turned out to be Klebsiella pneumoniae, a type of gut bacteria from a family of superbugs. Back in the U.S., doctors found that the bacteria were resistant to all available antibiotics, even those usually reserved as a last resort for multidrug-resistant bacteria. Within two months, the woman had died of multiple organ failure and sepsis. Health officials say her death is a grim reminder that drug-resistant bacteria are evolving, and that common infections could one day become untreatable. “People keep asking me, ‘How close are we to going off the cliff?’” James Johnson, professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota, tells NPR.org. “Come on, people. We’re off the cliff. It’s already happening. People are dying.

1-26-17 Memories can be disconnected – and it could help those with PTSD
Memories can be disconnected – and it could help those with PTSD
An innocuous smell or sound can be enough to trigger painful memories of trauma. Now researchers have found a way to disconnect linked memories in mice. People with post-traumatic stress disorder often get flashbacks that can be triggered by an innocuous smell or sound. Now a study that linked unrelated memories and separated them again, suggests that one day we may be able to decouple memories and prevent flashbacks in people with PTSD. Individual memories are stored in groups of neurons – an idea first proposed by psychologist Donald Hebb in 1949. Only now are we developing sophisticated techniques for examining these ensembles of neurons. To see whether two independent memories can become linked, Kaoru Inokuchi at the University of Toyama in Japan, and colleagues used a standard method for creating memories in mice. When mice are exposed to pain, they can learn to link this with associated stimuli, a taste, for example. The team trained mice to form two separate fear memories. First, the mice learned to avoid the sugary taste of saccharine. Whenever they licked a bottle filled with saccharine solution, they were injected with lithium chloride, which induces nausea.

1-26-17 How LSD affects the brain and creates its trippy effect
How LSD affects the brain and creates its trippy effect
There's renewed interest in using LSD to treat a range of psychiatric conditions. New findings probe how it works and hint at ways to use it therapeutically. Once you drop, you can’t stop – sometimes for up to 15 hours. Images revealing how LSD interacts with receptors in the brain could explain why a trip lasts so long, while another study involving a similar receptor unpicks how the drug makes these experiences feel meaningful. LSD acts on with a number of different receptors in the brain, including ones for the chemicals serotonin and dopamine, but it’s not known exactly which receptors are responsible for its various effects. Daniel Wacker and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, used crystallography to look at the structure of LSD when it binds to a receptor in the brain that normally detects serotonin. They discovered that part of this serotonin 2B receptor acts as a lid, closing around the LSD molecule and trapping it. This could explain the extended trips the drug produces. “It takes LSD very long to get into the receptor, and once it’s stuck it doesn’t go away,” says Wacker. However, there is conflicting evidence. Other studies have shown that LSD hangs around in the blood for a long time. “No prolonged action at the receptor is needed to explain the duration of action,” says Matthias Liechti at the University of Basel, Switzerland. But if Wacker is right, the fact that LSD seems to get stuck inside the receptor might mean it can have effects at very low doses. In recent years, there have been reports of some people taking LSD in amounts too small to cause hallucinations, in an attempt to boost creativity or general well-being.

1-26-17 Mouse cells grown in rats cure diabetes in mice
Mouse cells grown in rats cure diabetes in mice
Human-animal hybrid embryos may one day provide transplant organs. Researchers created a mouse embryo that contains rat cells. Hybrid, or chimeric, animals may eventually grow human organs to be used in transplants. Growing human organs in other animals is a small step closer to reality. Injecting human stem cells into pig and cattle embryos created embryos that incorporate a small number of human cells, scientists report January 26 in Cell. The ultimate goal of the controversial research is to use hybrid, or chimeric, animals to produce human organs for transplant. Farm animals incubating human organs won’t appear anytime soon, says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a stem cell biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. “I feel we’re still far away from that,” says Belmonte, who led the work. It has taken his group four years “just to deliver a message that, yes, human cells can integrate into a pig.”

1-26-17 Genetic fix can make mass-produced tomatoes taste great again
Genetic fix can make mass-produced tomatoes taste great again
Intensive breeding has made many vegetables lose the gene variations that give them great flavour, but now we’ve identified them, we can put them back. Mass-produced tomatoes are infamous for their bland, disappointing flavour. It’s even worse if you refrigerate them. But there’s hope on the horizon: geneticists have learned what went wrong, and how to make commercial tomatoes taste almost as good as their home-grown counterparts. Best of all, the same approach can be used to improve the flavour of many other fruits and vegetables. Harry Klee of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his colleagues asked volunteers to rate the flavour of 398 different tomato cultivars, including commercial varieties, heirloom tomatoes and wild strains. Using a gas chromatograph to measure the chemical constituents of each cultivar, they identified the specific odour molecules, known as volatiles, that contribute to desirable tomato flavour. The group then searched through the entire tomato genome to find the gene variants, or alleles, that determine whether each variety produces high or low amounts of these molecules.

1-26-17 Big genetics study blazes path for bringing back tomato flavor
Big genetics study blazes path for bringing back tomato flavor
Genetics of heirloom vs. mass-market varieties suggests new targets for breeders. Studying the genetics of flavor in heirloom tomatoes suggests ways to breed more taste into supermarket varieties, a new study finds. An analysis of nearly 400 kinds of tomatoes suggests which flavor compounds could bring heirloom deliciousness back to varieties that were bred for toughness over taste. About 30 compounds are important in creating a full-bodied tomato flavor, says study coauthor Harry Klee of the University of Florida in Gainesville. He and colleagues have identified 13 important molecules that have dwindled away in many mass-market varieties. Some of the flavor compounds deliver such a thrill to the human sensory system that even a modest increase could make a big difference, the researchers report January 26 in Science. “I think this will definitely help,” says Alisdair Fernie, who was not part of the study but has studied tomato chemistry at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, Germany. “Taste is incredibly complex,” he says, so creating more appealing commercial varieties “for certain, requires a holistic approach,” he says.

1-26-17 Giant flying reptile was top predator like a winged T. rex
Giant flying reptile was top predator like a winged T. rex
Strong neck bones suggest a pterosaur was top predator on lost world island in Transylvania, swooping in to swallow dwarf dinosaurs the size of a small horse. Old horror movies such as the 1925 The Lost World might have got it right after all. They portrayed pterosaurs as giant terrors of the skies, flying reptiles who snacked on large prey — and would in theory be dangerous even to humans. Scientists have instead come to think most pterosaurs were more like overgrown cranes that caught rat-sized baby dinosaurs on the ground and swallowed them whole. New fossils now indicate some giant pterosaurs probably did dine on bigger prey, such as dwarf dinosaurs the size of a small horse, 70 million years ago on an island that became modern-day Transylvania. Pterosaurs grew huge in the late Cretaceous, most famously Quetzalcoatlus northropi with a 10 to 12-metre wingspan, known from a Texas fossil. The giants belonged to a family called azhdarchids, which shared a common body plan, with long thin wings and necks, and lightly built bodies and heads. Most fossils are fragmentary and scrappy.

1-25-17 A meaning to life: How a sense of purpose can keep you healthy
A meaning to life: How a sense of purpose can keep you healthy
It helps prevent heart attack and stroke, staves off dementia, enables people to sleep better, have better sex and live longer. Oh, and it’s free. SOMETHING to live for. This simple idea is at the heart of our greatest stories, driving our heroes on. It is the thread from which more complex philosophies are woven. As Nietzsche once wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. As human beings, it is hard for us to shake the idea that our existence must have significance beyond the here and now. Life begins and ends, yes, but surely there is a greater meaning. The trouble is, these stories we tell ourselves do nothing to soften the harsh reality: as far as the universe is concerned, we are nothing but fleeting and randomly assembled collections of energy and matter. One day, we will all be dust. One day, but not yet. Just because life is ultimately meaningless doesn’t stop us searching for meaning while we are alive. Some seek it in religion, others in a career, money, family or pure escapism. But all who find it seem to stumble across the same thing – a thing psychologists call “purpose”. The notion of purpose in life may seem ill-defined and even unscientific. But a growing heap of research is pinning down what it is, and how it affects our lives. People with a greater sense of purpose live longer, sleep better and have better sex. Purpose cuts the risk of stroke and depression. It helps people recover from addiction or manage their glucose levels if they are diabetic. If a pharmaceutical company could bottle such a treatment, it would make billions. But you can find your own, and it’s free.

1-25-17 The folds in your brain may be linked to how neurotic you are
The folds in your brain may be linked to how neurotic you are
Brain scans of 500 people have revealed an association between the thickness and structure of the cortex, and how neurotic or open a person is. What are you like? A look at your brain may tell you. A study has found a link between some elements of brain structure and certain personality traits. The study involved scanning the brains of 500 volunteers, and assessing their personalities in terms of five traits – neuroticism, openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The researchers focused on the structure of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. They found that in people who are more neurotic and prone to mood changes, the cortex tends to be thicker and less wrinkly. People who appear more open – for example, curious and creative – show the opposite pattern.

1-25-17 Drilling into my skull and injecting stem cells helped my stroke
Drilling into my skull and injecting stem cells helped my stroke
After having a stroke in 2014, Evelyn Hilton volunteered to have stem cells injected into her brain to help treat the condition. Evelyn Hilton had a stroke on 29 June 2014. “It was a Sunday,” she says. “I don’t remember much about the stroke, but it was quite a bad one, and it left me with hardly any movement at all on the left side. Hilton, from Kilmarnock, UK, was 58 at the time, and definitely not ready to slow down. “I just kept thinking I can’t have this permanently because I’ve got too much to do,” she recalls. Stuck in hospital, and unable to control one side of her body, she volunteered for an experimental treatment in which a slurry of stem cells, the blank slate from which all other cell types can be made, was injected into her brain at the site of the stroke. At the time, the treatment had only been tried on a handful of people, but initial results suggested that it seemed safe, and potentially effective. It did, however, involve having a hole drilled through her skull. It was a daunting prospect, but she was keen to go through with it. “I was so desperate to be normal and to not have the stroke I was willing to try anything,” she says. “And I thought if it’s not going to do me any harm and it might help I’m going to go for it.” (Webmaster's comment: The Evangelists and Fundamentalists oppose these treatments. They would rather see people die than have them cured.)

1-25-17 Gene editing has saved the lives of two children with leukaemia
Gene editing has saved the lives of two children with leukaemia
Two young girls are both doing well more than a year after being treated with gene-edited cells. Clinical trials of the therapy are now getting started. Two children treated with gene-edited cells to kill their cancers are both doing well more than a year later. The baby girls were both given the experimental treatment only as a last resort, but clinical trials of the therapy are now getting underway in children and adults in the UK. An 11-month-old girl called Layla was the first to get the treatment, in June 2015. When the team who treated her at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London revealed details in November 2015, they stressed that it was too soon to say if she was cured. But 18 months on, Layla is doing well with no sign of the leukaemia returning. A second child, who was treated in December 2015 when she was 16 months old, is also healthy. (Webmaster's comment: The Evangelists and Fundamentalists oppose these treatments. They would rather see people die than have them cured.)

1-25-17 Gene-blocking therapy reverses Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice
Gene-blocking therapy reverses Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice
An antisense therapy that targets tau protein tangles in the brain has improved memory and extended lifespan in mice, and successfully targeted tau in monkeys. Targeting tangles of tau protein in mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms has reversed their brain damage, halting memory loss and extending their lives. Clumps of two types of sticky protein build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease: beta-amyloid plaques, and tangles of tau. While many attempts to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s have targeted beta-amyloid, tau protein tangles have long been suspected to play a role in memory loss. “Tau is what correlates with memory problems, so one hypothesis is that lowering tau could be beneficial,” says Tim Miller of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Now Miller’s team has purged tau tangles from the brains of Alzheimer’s-like mice for the first time. They used fragments of RNA called antisense oligonucleotides to sabotage the gene that makes tau, preventing it from being fully translated into protein. Once a day for four weeks, the team injected the antisense treatment, named Tau-ASO12, into the fluid at the base of each mouse’s spine. The mice had been genetically engineered to make a rogue form of tau similar to what is seen in people with Alzheimer’s, predisposing the mice to developing tau-related brain problems. The drug successfully spread throughout the brain, and was linked to a reduction in levels of tau that was made. It also seemed to destroy existing tau tangles, and prevent tau from spreading around the brain in older mice.

1-25-17 The Alzheimer’s problem: Why we are struggling to find a cure
The Alzheimer’s problem: Why we are struggling to find a cure
Touted breakthroughs keep coming to nothing. Are we close to a cure, or have we got the disease all wrong? The results of three trials should tell us. NEW drug will finally cure Alzheimer’s! Sound familiar? Seemingly every other week, the results of one preliminary trial or another promise that a game-changing drug for Alzheimer’s disease is just around the corner. Check back a few months later, though, and all mention of the drug has vanished, save perhaps for a terse story about a failed trial. Almost all clinical trials of new drugs to combat Alzheimer’s fail. No drug has bucked the trend in 20 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the constant promises of a breakthrough. Last November, after the failure of a particularly high-profile trial, for some the jig was up. “There are no treatments that can slow or reverse this devastating condition,” says Bryce Vissel at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. “There is no question that we have to look at Alzheimer’s in a different way.” So are we heading in the right direction, or do we need to rip up all the textbooks and start over? Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and by some metrics its prevalence is rising. Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that in 2015, 46.8 million people worldwide had dementia, a number that is set to double every 20 years, mostly because of an increasing number of older people in developing countries like India and China, leading to a global healthcare crisis.

1-25-17 With dinosaurs out of the way, mammals had a chance to thrive
With dinosaurs out of the way, mammals had a chance to thrive
After the extinction event, a new crowd of animals had room to explore a reshaped world. After a giant space rock hit the Earth 66 million years ago, life was no picnic. For dinosaurs, the end of the world began in fire. The space rock that stamped a Vermont-sized crater into the Earth 66 million years ago packed a powerful punch. Any animal living within about a thousand miles of the impact zone was probably vaporized, says paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “Everything would have been toast.” But outside of the impact zone, amid the smoking ruins of the battered planet, some survivors emerged. Life there was no picnic. Wave after wave of life-threatening disasters pummeled the animals that remained, says paleontologist Nicholas Longrich of the University of Bath in England. Earthquakes. Wildfires. Volcanoes. Acid rain. Dust and gunk in the air, blotting out the sun. “It’s this series of biblical plagues,” Longrich says. With little light, much plant life perished, and entire food webs collapsed. Life would have been like an ancient Hunger Games, with all living creatures as contestants. The odds were not in their favor. From sea to land to lake to sky, animals suffered incredible losses. “You’re basically losing all the big herbivores, all the big carnivores, apex predators in the oceans, entire guilds — wiped out overnight,” Longrich says. On land, he adds, anything bigger than a beaver went extinct. Just a few places in North America offer a fossil record of the early years after the extinction, he says, but “there’s no evidence for anything over 10 kilos surviving.” Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus and all other nonavian dinosaurs gone.

1-25-17 Some lucky birds escaped dino doomsday
Some lucky birds escaped dino doomsday
Feathers, wishbones and more were a dino thing before they were a bird thing. Birds diversified throughout the age of the dinosaurs, but only one lineage survived. The asteroid strike (or was it the roiling volcanoes?) that triggered dino doomsday 66 million years ago also brought an avian apocalypse. Birds had evolved by then, but only some had what it took to survive. Biologists now generally accept birds as a kind of dinosaur, just as people are a kind of mammal. Much of what we think of as birdlike traits—bipedal stance, feathers, wishbones and so on—are actually dinosaur traits that popped up here and there in the vast doomed branches of the dino family tree. In the diagram below, based on one from paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues, anatomical icons give a rough idea of when some of these innovations emerged.

1-25-17 Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearance
Devastation detectives try to solve dinosaur disappearance
Retracing the terrifying, mysterious final days of the dinosaurs. Life took a hit 66 million years ago, but whether the culprit was an asteroid or volcanic activity is an enduring mystery. Below the shimmering turquoise waters of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies the scene of a prehistoric mass murder. In a geologic instant, most animal and plant species perished. Drilling through hundreds of meters of rock, investigators have finally reached the footprint left by the accused: Earth’s most notorious space rock impact, Chicxulub. The dinosaur killer. Sleuthing scientists are assembling the most detailed timeline yet of the dinosaur apocalypse by giving fresh scrutiny to telltale fingerprints left by the fateful event 66 million years ago. At the impact site, mountains formed in mere minutes where an asteroid (or maybe a comet) crashed onto Earth’s surface, the new work reveals. In North America, a towering tsunami buried plants and animals alike under thick piles of rubble. Around the world, skies darkened by the resulting debris chilled the planet for years. But the asteroid may not have acted alone. Life may have already been in trouble. Growing evidence points to a supervolcanic accomplice (SN: 1/10/15, p. 12). Outpourings of molten rock and caustic gases in what is now India may have acidified the oceans and destabilized ecosystems long before and after the Chicxulub impactor hit. The jolt of the impact may have even boosted the eruptions, some researchers argue.

1-25-17 Bony head ornaments signal some supersized dinosaurs
Bony head ornaments signal some supersized dinosaurs
Accents like bumps and horns on theropod skulls linked to evolution of bigger bodies. Theropod dinosaurs display a wide variety of bony ornaments protruding from their skulls, including bumps, horns and crests. But relatives of modern birds instead donned feathers similar to those used by modern birds for flight. Dinosaur fashion, like that of humans, is subject to interpretation. Bony cranial crests, horns or bumps may have served to woo mates or help members of the same species identify one another. While the exact purpose of this skull decor is debated, the standout structures tended to come with an even more conspicuous trait: bigger bodies. Terry Gates, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and colleagues noticed an interesting trend in the fossil record of theropods, a group of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and the ancestors of birds. Bigger beasts often sported skeletal headgear. Across the family tree, Gates and his team analyzed 111 fossils dating from 65 million to 210 million years ago, and the trend held true. It makes sense: “Dinosaur size matters in terms of how they will be visually talking to one another,” says Gates. “When you’re smaller, your means of visual communication would be different then when you’re giant.”

1-24-17 Extra letters added to life's genetic code
Extra letters added to life's genetic code
Scientists have created bacteria that thrive using an expanded "genetic alphabet". The blueprint for all life forms on Earth is written in a code consisting of four "letters": A, T, C and G, which pair up in the DNA double helix. But the lab organism has been modified to use an additional two, giving it a genetic code of six letters. Researchers hope the work could lead to bugs that can help manufacture new classes of drugs to treat disease. The team from the US, China and France have published their work in PNAS journal.

1-24-17 Ancient otter of unusual size unearthed in China
Ancient otter of unusual size unearthed in China
Six million years ago, giant otters may have lived in the lush swamps of what is now China, and coexisted with tapir. Fossils of a giant otter have emerged from the depths of an open-pit mine in China. The crushed cranium, jaw bone and partial skeletons of at least three animals belong to a now-extinct species of otter that lived some 6.2 million years ago, scientists report January 23 in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. At roughly 50 kilograms in weight, the otter would have outclassed today’s giant otter, a river-dwelling South American mammal weighing in at around 34 kilograms. Scientists named the new species Siamogale melilutra, a nod to its unusual mix of badger and otter features. Melilutra is a mash-up of the Latin words for both creatures.

1-24-17 Huge otter fossil, millions of years old, discovered in China
Huge otter fossil, millions of years old, discovered in China
The fossil of an otter as big as a wolf has been discovered by scientists in south-west China. It's thought it roamed around the warm, humid wetlands more than six million years ago. Named Siamogale melilutra, the huge otter would have weighed around 110lb (50kg) and been up to two metres in length. That's far bigger than even the largest otters alive today, researchers said. The South American giant river otter for example weighs up to about 70lb (32 kg). "Siamogale melilutra reminds us, I think, of the diversity of life in the past and how many more questions there are still to answer," said Denise Su, Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator of paleobotany and paleoecology.

1-24-17 Asteroid barrage, ancient marine life boom not linked
Asteroid barrage, ancient marine life boom not linked
New dating debunks idea that bombardment created eco-niches needed to diversify. The rapid diversification of marine animals, including trilobites (fossils shown), around 471 million years ago probably wasn’t prompted by impacts from asteroid debris. An asteroid bombardment that some say triggered an explosion of marine animal diversity around 471 million years ago actually had nothing to do with it. Precisely dating meteorites from the salvo, researchers found that the space rock barrage began at least 2 million years after the start of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. So the two phenomena are unrelated, the researchers conclude January 24 in Nature Communications.

1-24-17 Humans’ stuff vastly outweighs humans
Humans’ stuff vastly outweighs humans
Human-made things are 60,000 times as heavy as humans themselves. The combined mass of all human-created products has eclipsed the mass of nature-made products, including humans, researchers estimate. Have you ever felt weighed down by your material possessions? The boundless variety of stuff that humans manufacture — tractors, buildings, ballpoint pens, Hello Kitty backpacks — has serious heft: 30 trillion metric tons, a new study estimates. That’s about 50 kilograms for every square meter of Earth’s surface. The human-made “technosphere,” all the manufactured goods around today, surpasses the natural biosphere in mass and variety, geologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester in England and colleagues report online November 28 in The Anthropocene Review. Books alone, at about 130 million titles, surpass the estimated 8.7 million eukaryotic species on Earth. The technosphere is one measure of how humankind is reshaping the planet (SN: 10/15/16, p. 14), the researchers note.

1-23-17 A deadly superbug appears to be invading America's hospitals
A deadly superbug appears to be invading America's hospitals
angerous type of superbug has more tricks up its sleeves than we may be giving it credit for, a recent study suggests. The researchers found that this class of bacteria, CREs — that's short for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae — has more ways to evade antibiotics than have been currently identified, and that these bugs share their tricks readily across the families of bacteria that make up this grouping. Further, the authors suggest these bacteria may be spreading more stealthily than existing surveillance can detect. "You know the phrase 'Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?' The horse has not only bolted, the horse has had a lot of ponies, and they're eating all our carrots," said Bill Hanage, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study. Hanage and colleagues from Harvard and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard took an in-depth look at CREs recovered from patients in three Boston hospitals and a hospital in Irvine, Calif. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has dubbed CREs "nightmare bacteria." That's because they are resistant to many, and sometimes most, antibiotics, including carbapenems, an important class of last-resort drugs. (Webmaster's comment: At 7.5 Billion humans are the biggest target diseases have ever and they are having a feast.)

1-23-17 Injections of sex-related hormone increase arousal in the brain
Injections of sex-related hormone increase arousal in the brain
A small study has found that injections of a hormone called kisspeptin can enhance the response of young men’s brains to sexual or romantic pictures of couples. In the mood? Feeling sexy and romantic has been linked to a hormone named kisspeptin. Researchers hope the chemical may help treat people with some sexual problems. Kisspeptin occurs naturally in the body, where it stimulates the release of other signalling chemicals that have been linked to reproduction. Now a study of 29 heterosexual young men has found that injections of the hormone enhance the brain’s response to sexual and romantic pictures of couples. After injection, MRI scans showed increased activity in the regions of the brain that are usually stimulated by sexual arousal and romance. But this activity was only prompted by arousing pictures – non-sexy images did not have the same effect. “Our findings indicate that kisspeptin could play a role in stimulating some of the emotions and responses that lead to sex and reproduction,” says Waljit Dhillo, at Imperial College London. “Ultimately, we are keen to look into whether kisspeptin could be an effective treatment for psychosexual disorders.” The team now plans to study the effects of the hormone in a larger group of people, including women as well as men.

1-23-17 A ban on screens in bedrooms may save kids’ sleep
A ban on screens in bedrooms may save kids’ sleep
The mere presence of digital devices in bedrooms may rev kids’ brains up, making it hard for them to sleep, a new analysis suggests. Most nights I read a book in bed to wind down. But when I run out of my library supply, I read articles on my phone instead. I suspect that this digital substitution messes with my sleep. That’s not good for me — but it’s probably worse for the many children who have screens in their rooms at night. A team of researchers recently combed through the literature looking for associations between mobile devices in the bedroom and poor sleep. Biostatistician Ben Carter of King’s College London and colleagues found that kids between ages 6 and 19 who used screen-based media around bedtime slept worse and were more tired in the day. That’s not surprising: Phones, tablets and laptops make noise and emit blue light that can interfere with the sleep-inducing melatonin. But things got interesting when the researchers compared kids who didn’t have screens in their bedrooms with kids who did have phones or tablets in their rooms but didn’t use them.

1-23-17 Baby dinosaurs took three to six months to hatch
Baby dinosaurs took three to six months to hatch
Fossils show dinos had incubation times more similar to reptiles than birds. 75-million-year-old hatchling fossil of the dinosaur Protoceratops andrewsi was found in Mongolia. Fossilized P. andrewsi embryos reveal dinos had reptilelike incubation times. Dinosaurs might live on today as birds, but they hatched like reptiles. Developing dinos stayed in their eggs three to six months before emerging, far longer than previously suspected, researchers report online January 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. With few clues to dinosaurs’ embryonic lives, scientists assumed that young dinosaurs shared modern birds’ swift incubation period, which ranges from 45 to 80 days for eggs in the size range of dino eggs. A reptile egg generally takes about twice as long to hatch as a bird egg of similar size, says lead author Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

1-23-17 Dried-up slime could help microbes survive briny waters on Mars
Dried-up slime could help microbes survive briny waters on Mars
Colonies of bacteria called biofilms live longer in Mars-like waters – especially if they were dried out first, as they would be after hitching a ride through space. Sticking together could help microbes survive in briny waters on Mars. Biofilms, colonies of cells embedded in a slimy protective coating, live longer than single cells when exposed to Mars-like brines – and even longer when they’re dried out first. Biofilms are everywhere on Earth, from dental plaque and pond scum to systems we use to clean up oil spills. Here, biofilms can protect their inhabitants from antibiotics, radiation, temperature changes and other extreme environments that would otherwise kill them almost immediately. The behaviour of biofilms on Earth is fairly well studied, but we’re only just beginning to figure out how they’d react to alien environments – which is crucial if we are to avoid contaminating other worlds. Now, an experiment shows that stowing away on a spacecraft may actually help the microbes survive.

1- 23-17 Are potatoes now a cancer risk? Here’s what you need to know
Are potatoes now a cancer risk? Here’s what you need to know
A UK health campaign is taking aim at a substance found in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures. But what exactly is the case against acrylamide? The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a campaign warning of the cancer risk associated with cooking potatoes and other starchy foods at high temperatures. How worried should we be, and do we need to change the way we eat? New Scientist looks at the evidence. What’s the problem? In a word, acrylamide. This chemical is used in lots of industrial processes, including water purification, and to separate DNA molecules in experiments. Acrylamide is also found in some foods. Which foods contain acrylamide? Acrylamide is made by something called the Maillard reaction, which browns cooked foods and gives them their pleasing flavour. As sugars and amino acids react together, they produce thousands of different chemicals. Particularly high levels of acrylamide are found in starchy foods, like potatoes and bread, when cooked at temperatures over 120 oC. The chemical can also be present in breakfast cereals, biscuits and coffee. Is acrylamide dangerous? In the body, acrylamide is converted into another compound, glycidamide, which can bind to DNA and cause mutations. Animal studies clearly show that acrylamide causes all sorts of cancers, but it’s hard to relate this to us. “Although evidence from animal studies has shown that acrylamide in food could be linked to cancer, this link isn’t clear and consistent in humans,” says Emma Shields, at charity Cancer Research UK.

1-21-17 What a mosquito's immune system can tell us about fighting malaria
What a mosquito's immune system can tell us about fighting malaria
New insight into how insect zaps invaders could boost battle against parasite. Scientists have gained new insights into how Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, a major vector for malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, fend off the parasites that cause the disease. Immune cells in a malaria-transmitting mosquito sense the invading parasites and deploy an army of tiny messengers in response. These couriers help turn on a mosquito’s defenses, killing off the parasites, a new study suggests. This more detailed understanding of the mosquito immune system, published January 20 in Science Immunology, might help scientists design new ways to combat malaria, which infects more than 200 million people per year. “If we understand how the mosquito reduces the parasite to begin with, we hope we can boost these mechanisms to completely eliminate these parasites [in mosquitoes],” says Kristin Michel, an insect immunologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan who wasn’t part of the study.

1-20-17 Mammograms questioned
Mammograms questioned
New research has cast doubt on the value of mammograms, reports NBCNews.com. A Danish study compared two groups: women ages 50 to 69 who had undergone the imaging scans and other women who hadn’t been screened. To their surprise, the researchers found no difference in the number of advanced-stage breast cancer diagnoses between the two groups. Moreover, among the screened women, one in three breast cancers was classified as an “overdiagnosis” that resulted in unnecessary treatment, such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. The study’s authors say the imaging tests don’t always allow doctors to differentiate between dangerous tumors and growths that may not require treatment. They urge women not to forego breast cancer screening or treatment, but argue that physicians need better genetic tests to help them identify dangerous tumors. “There’s a tendency in the U.S. to think that screening is better than it actually is,” says the American Cancer Society. “It’s important that we learn the limitations of screening so that we can apply that tool as best we possibly can to save as many lives as possible.”

1-20-17 Real-life psychopaths actually have below-average intelligence
Real-life psychopaths actually have below-average intelligence
They may be manipulative, dishonest and callous, but the typical psychopath is no Hannibal Lecter. In fact, they tend to get lower scores on intelligence tests. Manipulative, dishonest and lacking in empathy – the traits that describe a psychopath aren’t particularly pleasant. But the idea that they are also fiendishly clever – as often portrayed in films and TV – isn’t quite true. In fact, in general, psychopaths seem to have below-average intelligence. You have probably met a psychopath at some point in your life. They make up around 1 per cent of the population, says Brian Boutwell at St Louis University in Missouri. A person is classified as a psychopath if they achieve a certain score on a test of psychopathic traits, which include callousness, impulsiveness, aggression and a sense of grandiosity. “Not all psychopaths will break the law or hurt someone, but the odds of them doing so are higher,” says Boutwell. Because many psychopaths are charming and manipulative, people have assumed they also have above-average intelligence, says Boutwell. Psychologists term this the “Hannibal Lecter myth”, referring to the fictional serial killer, cannibal and psychiatrist from the book and film The Silence of the Lambs. But Boutwell wasn’t convinced. “Psychopaths are impulsive, have run-ins with the law and often get themselves hurt,” he says. “That led me to think they’re not overly intelligent.”

1-19-17 Robotic sleeve 'hugs' failing hearts
Robotic sleeve 'hugs' failing hearts
US scientists have developed a robotic sleeve that can help hearts pump when they are failing. The sleeve - made of material that mimics heart muscle - hugs the outside of the heart and squeezes it, mimicking the action of cardiac muscle. The early study, published in Science Translational Medicine, shows the concept works on pig hearts. The British Heart Foundation describes it as a "novel approach" that requires further trials.

1-19-17 In debate over origin of fairy circles, both sides might be right
In debate over origin of fairy circles, both sides might be right
Weirdly regular bald spots in dry grasslands may arise from both plant and termite competitions. Called fairy circles, the mysterious patches of bare soil in the Namib Desert may form thanks to a mix of fighting termites and competing plants, scientists propose. Ecologists still don’t believe in fairies. But it may take magic to resolve a long-running debate over what causes the oddly regular spots of bare soil called fairy circles. A new approach now suggests combining the two main hypotheses. Fairy circles, each among about six close neighbors, sprinkle arid grasslands in southern Africa and Australia “like a polka dot dress,” says ecologist Corina Tarnita of Princeton University. Two persistent ideas fuel debate over what’s making the arrays: stalemate warfare between underground termite colonies (SN Online: 3/28/13) or bigger plants monopolizing water (SN: 4/16/16, p. 8). “What if the reason that this debate is so long-lasting and it’s so hard to dismiss the other hypothesis is that both are right to a certain extent?” Tarnita asks.

1-18-17 Heart-hugging robot does the twist (and squeeze)
Heart-hugging robot does the twist (and squeeze)
Mimicking action of a real heart pumps up blood flow in failing organ, pig study shows. A robotic sleeve wrapped around a pig’s heart can pump blood using inflatable tubes that compress the heart. A new squishy robot could keep hearts from skipping a beat. A silicone sleeve slipped over pigs’ hearts helped pump blood when the hearts failed, researchers report January 18 in Science Translational Medicine. If the sleeve works in humans, it could potentially keep weak hearts pumping, and buy time for patients waiting for a transplant. To make the device contract, biomedical engineer Ellen Roche and colleagues lined it with two sets of narrow tubes. One set encircles the sleeve, like bracelets; the other runs from top to bottom. When air pumps through the tubes, the sleeve compresses (like a clenched fist) and twists (like wrung-out laundry). Those actions mimic how the layers of the heart contract. Researchers programmed the sleeve to sync with the heart’s motion. And like a healthy heart, the robot sleeve’s double squeeze gets blood moving.

1-18-17 Mysterious fairy circles in Namibian desert explained at last
Mysterious fairy circles in Namibian desert explained at last
Patterns in desert vegetation have been puzzling ecologists for years, but now it seems to have been finally cracked: both water and termites are at play. The Namib desert is covered with regular patterns of bare circles whose origin is fiercely debated by researchers – but it now seems both leading explanations may be right. One camp claims the empty patches, known as fairy circles, are created by termites under the soil that clear vegetation in the area around their nests. By making the soil porous, the argument goes, they establish permanent reservoirs of rainwater 50 centimetres below the surface, which sustains them and the surrounding ecosystem. An alternative idea is that the circles are explained by plants competing for water. Plants help their nearest neighbours by creating shade and maintaining water on the soil’s surface, but hinder those further away by growing long roots that extract water from the soil. The water competition theory can explain the regular patterns neatly, but hasn’t been proven in any test, says Corina Tarnita of Princeton University. Meanwhile, the termite theory is backed up by observations of termite nests in the circles, but couldn’t explain why the patterns are so regular. “Each one was bringing what we thought were convincing arguments,” she says.

1-18-17 Cellular recovery: How self-help could aid the damaged brain
Cellular recovery: How self-help could aid the damaged brain
Stem cells are already proving beneficial following a stroke, and soon we might not even need to use them, says neurobiologist Jack Price. A FEW months ago, Evelyn Hilton was able to ditch the walking stick she had relied on since 2014 and stand on her own two feet again. Meanwhile, Sonia Olea Coontz felt her right arm “wake up” after more than six months of it being totally paralysed and was able to walk more easily. Both had taken part in clinical trials in which stem cells were injected into their brains at the site of an earlier stroke. This was no “Lazarus effect”; the patients didn’t wake from surgery and leap dramatically from their beds, totally cured. Yet the results were a major step forward in efforts to heal damaged brains, and could lead to such treatments becoming widely available within just a few years. It is undoubtedly an exciting time for stem cell medicine. Stem cells, the blank slate from which the body can build any type of cell it needs, are proving themselves capable of doing what was once thought impossible: healing broken brains. Yet having followed the progress of cell therapies since the 1980s, it seems to me that this technology is just the beginning of a wave of even more exciting potential treatments. They would involve persuading the diseased brain to replace its lost cells without the need for a transplant: a true regenerative medicine of the brain.

1-18-17 Monsoon deluges turned ancient Sahara green
Monsoon deluges turned ancient Sahara green
Leaf-wax measurements used to reconstruct 25,000 years of rainfall. Rainier conditions than previously thought turned the Sahara Desert into grasslands, lakes and rivers from 11,000 to 5,000 years ago, a new study finds. A brief return to aridity around 8,000 years ago set the stage for cattle herders to spread across North Africa, researchers suspect. Thousands of years ago, it didn’t just rain on the Sahara Desert. It poured. Grasslands, trees, lakes and rivers once covered North Africa’s now arid, unforgiving landscape. From about 11,000 to 5,000 years ago, much higher rainfall rates than previously estimated created that “Green Sahara,” say geologist Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona in Tucson and her colleagues. Extensive ground cover, combined with reductions of airborne dust, intensified water evaporation into the atmosphere, leading to monsoonlike conditions, the scientists report January 18 in Science Advances.

1-18-17 Babies remember their birth language - scientists
Babies remember their birth language - scientists
Babies build knowledge about the language they hear even in the first few months of life, research shows. If you move countries and forget your birth language, you retain this hidden ability, according to a study. Dutch-speaking adults adopted from South Korea exceeded expectations at Korean pronunciation when retrained after losing their birth language. Scientists say parents should talk to babies as much as possible in early life. Dr Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul led the research.

1-18-17 IVF: First three-parent baby born to infertile couple
IVF: First three-parent baby born to infertile couple
A baby has been born to a previously infertile couple in Ukraine using a new type of "three-person IVF". Doctors in Kiev used a method called pronuclear transfer in what is a world first. It is, however, not the first child born with DNA from three parents. The baby girl, born on 5 January, is thought to be the world's second "modern three-parent baby" - another child was created using a slightly different method in Mexico last year. The Kiev team fertilised the mother's egg with her partner's sperm. They then transferred the combined genes into an egg taken from a donor. The child has the genetic identity of the parents, alongside a tiny amount of DNA from the second woman.

1-17-17 First baby born using 3-parent technique to treat infertility
First baby born using 3-parent technique to treat infertility
These are the first photos of a girl born in Kiev who was made using a mitochondrial replacement technique to get around her mother’s infertility problems. This is the first baby to be born using a particular “3-parent-baby” technique to treat infertility. The girl was born on 5 January in a fertility clinic in Kiev, Ukraine. “With the help of this method, a 34-year-old woman who had suffered from infertility for more than 15 years gave birth to a healthy baby that’s genetically her own,” said a statement from the Nadiya clinic. The clinic’s director, Valery Zukin, and his team used a mitochondrial transfer technique that creates embryos that carry the chromosomes of two parents, but the mitochondrial DNA of a donor. This technique has been approved in the UK as a way to bypass a baby inheriting harmful mitochondrial diseases, but Zukin’s team used the method to treat embryo arrest – a condition in which fertilised eggs stop growing after generating only a few cells. The idea is that there are factors within a cell that can help or hinder fertility – such as enzymes that help cells grow and divide. By placing a pronucleus from the mother – which contains her chromosomal DNA plus that of the father – into the egg of a donor, the team may have found a way to get around whatever was causing the early arrest.

1-17-17 Electronic gene control could let us plug bacteria into devices
Electronic gene control could let us plug bacteria into devices
Hooking up custom-made microbes to electronics could have a host of applications in medicine and industry, such as smarter drugs and better health apps. We don’t usually welcome bugs in digital technology, but that’s about to change. Researchers have developed a way to control bacterial genes at the flick of a switch using electricity. Synthetic biologists are eager to find ways to connect engineered organisms to electronics, so we can make living components for devices. The ability of custom-made microbes to sense the environment and make biological molecules would be particularly valuable for devices that work inside the body, says William Bentley at the University of Maryland. “If you want to discover what’s going on in the gastrointestinal tract or the oral cavity, if you can connect to electronics you have a way of interpreting what’s going on and you may be able to manipulate it,” he says. For example, a device could use an organism to sense chemicals produced by harmful bacteria in the body and secrete an antibiotic when it detects them. To get specific genes in bacteria to respond to electrical stimulation, Bentley’s team took advantage of what are called redox molecules. These biological molecules are found in all cells and can pick up and pass on electrons. They are said to have a reduced state when they gain electrons, and an oxidised state when they lose electrons.

1-17-17 Calorie restriction diet extends life of monkeys by years
Calorie restriction diet extends life of monkeys by years
Macaques on permanent diets live significantly longer – the equivalent of nine years in people. But is the detailed meal planning and loss of libido worth it? Put down the cake. Going on a permanent diet could make you live longer, if findings from monkeys hold true for people. A long-running trial in macaques has found that calorie restriction makes them live about three years longer than normal, which would translate to about nine years in people. Such a strict diet might not be for everyone, but understanding the mechanisms behind any benefits of calorie restriction may one day lead to anti-ageing medicines, says Julie Mattison at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Baltimore, Maryland. “The goal is to improve human health,” she says. Many studies have shown that calorie restriction extends lifespan for lab organisms, from yeast through to worms, flies and mice. This has prompted a few thousand people to choose to restrict their calories to between 1500 to 1800 kcal a day (women and men are usually advised to consume 2000 and 2500 kcal, respectively). Their hope is it will give them longer and healthier lives, and there’s some evidence that such people have better blood cholesterol and glucose levels.

1-17-17 Coastal waters were an oxygen oasis 2.3 billion years ago
Coastal waters were an oxygen oasis 2.3 billion years ago
Despite being ripe for complex life, it took another 1.5 billion years for oxygen-hungry animals to evolve. Oxygen was abundant enough for complex life-forms such as 1.4-billion-year-old fossilized eukaryote to thrive around 2.3 billion years ago, new research suggests. The expansion and diversification of eukaryotes nevertheless only came hundreds of millions of years later. Earth was momentarily ripe for the evolution of animals hundreds of millions of years before they first appeared, researchers propose. Chemical clues in ancient rocks suggest that 2.32 billion to 2.1 billion years ago, shallow coastal waters held enough oxygen to support oxygen-hungry life-forms including some animals, researchers report the week of January 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But the first animal fossils, sponges, don’t appear until around 650 million years ago, following a period of scant oxygen known as the boring billion (SN: 11/14/15, p. 18). “As far as environmental conditions were concerned, things were favorable for this evolutionary step to happen,” says study coauthor Andrey Bekker, a sedimentary geologist at the University of California, Riverside. Something else must have stalled the rise of animals, he says.

1-16-17 Complex life may have had a false start 2.3 billion years ago
Complex life may have had a false start 2.3 billion years ago
High levels of oceanic oxygen could have allowed advanced, animal-like life to develop for the first time – only to be wiped out again as oxygen vanished. It was a sign of things to come. About 2.3 billion years ago, our primitive planet was an oxygen-poor world profoundly different from now – but then it briefly and mysteriously gained an oxygen-rich atmosphere. This so-called Lomagundi Event could have provided a fleeting opportunity for complex, animal-like creatures to evolve billions of years before the ancestors of all animals we know today appeared. Earth is thought to have begun to develop its modern, oxygen-rich atmosphere as recently as 800 million years ago. This is roughly when biologically complex, oxygen-breathing animals first appear in the fossil record, leading many to suggest that animal life was made possible by the rise in atmospheric oxygen. Before 800 million years ago, there may have been little gaseous oxygen around – one 2014 estimate suggests there may have been as little as 0.1 per cent of the present level. The Lomagundi Event – between 2.3 and 2.1 billion years ago – is an exception to this early oxygen-poor world. Chemical analysis of “Lomagundi” rocks hints that the amount of organic carbon buried in the deep ocean suddenly spiked.

1-17-17 Petrified tree rings tell ancient tale of sun’s behavior
Petrified tree rings tell ancient tale of sun’s behavior
Variations in growth rate match today’s 11-year solar cycle, study claims. The rings in trees buried by volcanic eruptions hundreds of millions of years ago show evidence of climate variations caused by the 11-year solar cycle, researchers report. The sun has been in the same routine for at least 290 million years, new research suggests. Ancient tree rings from the Permian period record a roughly 11-year cycle of wet and dry periods, climate fluctuations caused by the ebbing and flowing of solar activity, researchers propose January 9 in Geology. The discovery would push back the earliest evidence of today’s 11-year solar cycle by tens of millions of years. “The sun has apparently been doing what it’s been doing today for a long time,” says Nat Gopalswamy, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who was not involved in the study.

1-16-17 Antibody can protect brains from the ageing effects of old blood
Antibody can protect brains from the ageing effects of old blood
Old blood can prompt ageing and inflammation. But an antibody that blocks a protein associated with ageing called VCAM1 - seems to protect mice from damage. Old blood may have a powerful effect, damaging organs and contributing to ageing. Now a compound has been developed that seems to protect against this, preventing mice’s brains from ageing. The effects of blood on ageing were first discovered in experiments that stitched young and old mice together so that they shared circulating blood. Older mice seem to benefit from such an arrangement, developing healthier organs and becoming protected from age-related disease. But young mice aged prematurely. Such experiments suggest that, while young blood can be restorative, there is something in old blood that is actively harmful. Now Hanadie Yousef at Stanford University in California seems to have identified a protein that is causing some of the damage, and has developed a way to block it.

1-16-17 Woman dies from infection resistant to all available antibiotics
Woman dies from infection resistant to all available antibiotics
Incurable bacterial infections are on the rise worldwide, but 90 per cent of multi-resistant infections in the US can still be beaten by at least one drug. Incurable bacteria that resist nearly all antibiotics are continuing to spread worldwide. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that a woman who died in Washington State last August was infected with Klebsiella bacteria that was resistant to 26 different antibiotics – everything her hospital was able to the throw at it. We don’t know how many totally antibiotic-resistant infections there are now, says Mike Sharland, at St George’s, University of London. A World Health Organisation tracking project has only just got started. But according to the CDC, at least 90 per cent of multi-resistant infections in the US can still be killed by at least one antibiotic of last resort. Tragically, the infection of the woman in Washington State might have been cured by one drug that is licensed for uses like this in Europe, but not in the US. Fosfomycin is an old drug that was replaced by more modern cephalosporins in the 1980s. But researchers are now trying to resurrect and re-license such drugs for use in the increasing number of cases where newer ones fail. (Webmaster's comment: Intelligence isn't the only factor. There are a lot more of them and they evolve a lot faster.)

1-13-17 Concussed athletes more likely to injure their legs months later
Concussed athletes more likely to injure their legs months later
After a head blow, athletes are at greater risk of knee ligament tears and ankle sprains. A study of college sportsmen suggests looser legs may be to blame. Head injuries are more than just a headache. Athletes who get concussed are more likely to later tear a knee ligament or sprain their ankle – and stiffer hips and looser legs may be to blame. Sportsmen who sustain a concussion have an increased likelihood of getting a musculoskeletal injury in their lower limbs for up to three months after the head injury. “We knew they were more likely to get hurt but we didn’t know why,” says Dominique DuBose at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. To find out, her team examined 39 college American football players. Of these, 13 went on to have head injuries. DuBose and her colleagues discovered that for an average of 50 days after a head injury, these athletes had stiffer hips, but looser knees and legs. “Stiffness is one of those ‘Goldilocks’ measures: too much is not a good thing, too little and you’re not stabilising your lower extremity,” says Daniel Herman, a member of the team.

1-13-17 Though complex, new peanut allergy guidelines are based on science
Though complex, new peanut allergy guidelines are based on science
New guidelines state that foods containing peanuts are OK to introduce to babies as young as 4 to 6 months old — with certain caveats.Six hours before I gave birth to my son, our labor and delivery nurse started choking. The cause, we later discovered, was a jar of peanuts that my unsuspecting husband had cracked open for a snack. Our fast-acting (and highly allergic) nurse rushed out of the room and made it to her EpiPen in time. She was OK, to our immense relief, and we managed to not endanger anyone else’s life that night. But, the scary incident made me want to keep my baby away from peanuts forever. Don’t do that. Instead, parents should feed (most) babies peanut-containing foods early and often, new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend. “We’re saying that if you introduce peanuts early, you’re going to have a very good chance of preventing peanut allergy,” says Alkis Togias, an allergist at NIAID in Bethesda, Md. The guidelines, published January 5 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and five other journals, include pages of detailed advice and group kids by different risk factors.

1-13-17 Here's how earwax might clean ears
Here's how earwax might clean ears
Goo traps incoming dust; chewing motion may ferry crumbling concoction out. Studying earwax might inspire new ways to reduce dust buildup. The self-cleaning marvel known as earwax may turn the dust particles it traps into agents of their own disposal. Earwax, secreted in the ear canal, protects ears from building up dunes of debris from particles wafting through the air. The wax creates a sticky particle-trapper inside the canal, explained Zac Zachow January 6 at the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. The goo coats hairs and haphazardly pastes them into a loose net. Then, by a process not yet fully understood, bits of particle-dirtied wax leave the ear, taking their burden of debris with them. Earwax may accomplish such a feat because trapping more and more dust turns it from gooey to crumbly, Zachow said. Working with Alexis Noel in David Hu’s lab at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, he filmed a rough demonstration of this idea: Mixing flour into a gob of pig’s earwax eventually turned the lump from stickier to drier, with crumbs fraying away at the edges.

1-13-17 Dinosaurs’ egg problem
Dinosaurs’ egg problem
Dinosaurs took much longer to incubate their eggs than previously thought—a factor that may have contributed to their demise. Scientists at Florida State University came to this conclusion after analyzing the teeth of rare fossilized dinosaur embryos. Like human teeth, reptile teeth are formed during incubation from a liquid called dentin; this calcified tissue builds up, adding a new layer each day as the embryo develops. “They’re kind of like tree rings,” lead author Gregory Erickson tells CSMonitor?.com. “We could literally count them to see how long each dinosaur had been developing.” The researchers calculated that smaller Protoceratops hatchlings took nearly three months to develop, while the eggs of the Hypacrosaurus, a duck-billed dinosaur that grew to be about 30 feet long, incubated for about six months. With such long incubations, dinosaurs must have been very slow reproducers—a trait that would hurt their ability to rebuild their populations after a comet or asteroid strike wiped many of them out 65 million years ago. The discovery may also help explain why birds, whose eggs have significantly shorter incubation times than dinosaurs’ did, survived the same mass extinction event.

1-12-17 Orcas reveal the origin of menopause
Orcas reveal the origin of menopause
A 40-year study of a population of killer whales off the US Pacific coast has helped British researchers to solve an evolutionary mystery - why killer whales and humans are two of only three species that go through what we call menopause - stopping reproduction part-way through their lives. By examining a record of every birth and death in every orca family, scientists discovered that the menopause gave new calves a better chance at survival - preventing what they called "reproductive conflict" between mothers and daughters.

1-12-17 How mice use their brain to hunt
How mice use their brain to hunt
Scientists light up nerve cells with lasers to illuminate amygdala’s role in stalking, chomping. Nerve cells in a mouse’s amygdala send messages that help the rodent chase and kill prey such as crickets, a new study shows. The part of the brain that governs emotions such as fear and anxiety also helps mice hunt. That structure, the amygdala, orchestrates a mouse’s ability to both stalk a cricket and deliver a fatal bite, scientists report January 12 in Cell. Scientists made select nerve cells in mice’s brains sensitive to light, and then used lasers to activate specific groups of those cells. By turning different cells on and off, the researchers found two separate sets of nerve cells relaying hunting-related messages from the amygdala’s central nucleus. One set controlled the mice’s ability to chase their prey. The other affected their ability to deliver a solid chomp and kill a cricket. “They’ve found these two behaviors — that are part of something we think of being very complex — are controlled by these two circuits,” says Cris Niell, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon in Eugene who wasn’t part of the study. “You flip a switch to chase, you flip a switch to attack.”

1-12-17 Mice turn into killers when brain circuit is triggered by laser
Mice turn into killers when brain circuit is triggered by laser
Two sets of neurons control whether a mouse will pounce to kill. Using a technique called optogenetics, researchers can turn this behaviour on and off. The researchers then blocked the action of each set of neurons in turn. When they blocked the neurons responsible for prey pursuit, the mice were slow to chase but still able to bite. Conversely, when they blocked the biting neurons, the mice pursued the prey but could not deliver a killing bite. The next step will be to determine what activates these two groups of neurons in real life, says de Araujo. “We don’t know yet,” he says. “But behavioural studies suggest that visual cues, especially small moving objects, are critical for triggering predatory sequences.” The amygdala receives sensory information about visual cues, smell and sounds, so it makes sense for it to be involved in predatory hunting, says Elena Bagley at the University of Sydney, Australia. “It gets the right information to determine whether the prey is there, and then projects to regions that control motor function,” she says. It’s likely that the amygdala evolved these functions when vertebrates first developed necks and jaws, which allowed more effective hunting and killing, says de Araujo. “The reconfiguration placed jawed predators at the top of the food chain.”

1-12-17 Largest ever shark was doomed by its taste for dwarf whales
Largest ever shark was doomed by its taste for dwarf whales
The 16-metre-long megalodon may have fed on small marine mammals, and when they went extinct, so did the sharks. With a jaw up to 3 metres wide that had the power to crush a small car, megalodon had a formidable bite. But it seems the largest shark to ever live preferred to snack on amuse bouche rather than more substantial prey – and that could have been its downfall. The 16-metre-long Carcharocles megalodon is thought to have prowled the world’s oceans for around 14 million years before dying out about 2.6 million years ago. Analysis of the fossils of marine mammals that lived in the oceans around 7 million years ago have provided the most detailed insight yet into the kind of prey it targeted. Distinctive scrape marks and wounds left on bones by the shark’s huge, serrated teeth suggest it preferred hunting now-extinct dwarf whales and seals. “The disappearance of the last giant-toothed shark could have been triggered by the decline and fall of several dynasties of small to medium-sized baleen whales in favour of modern, gigantic baleen whales,” says Alberto Collareta, a palaeontologist at the University of Pisa in Italy and lead author of the study.

1-11-17 Pain promoter also acts as pain reliever
Pain promoter also acts as pain reliever
Experiments with rodent cells reveal dual role for pain-sensing protein. A protein that detects pain also triggers production of pain-soothing opioids, new experiments with rodent cells reveal. A protein that sounds the alarm when the body encounters something painful also helps put out the fire. Called Nav1.7, the protein sits on pain-sensing nerves and has long been known for sending a red alert to the brain when the body has a brush with pain. Now, experiments in rodent cells reveal another role for Nav1.7: Its activity triggers the production of pain-relieving molecules. The study, published online January 10 in Science Signaling, suggests a new approach to pain management that takes advantage of this protein’s dual role.

1-11-17 It takes guts for a sea spider to pump blood
It takes guts for a sea spider to pump blood
The skinny legs of sea spiders hold guts that digest food and help pump blood. A newfound way of delivering oxygen in animal circulatory systems depends mostly on food sloshing back and forth in the guts. This discovery came in sea spiders, or pycnogonids, which can look like legs in search of a body. Their spookily long legs hold stretches of digestive tract, which wouldn’t fit inside the creatures’ scrap of an abdomen. Waves of contraction sweeping up and down the leggy guts cause blood outside the guts to move too, evolutionary physiologist Art Woods of the University of Montana in Missoula said January 8 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. As lumpy surges of partly digested food rise and fall, blood that has picked up oxygen by diffusion whooshes to the rest of the body, Woods proposed.

1-11-17 Ancient oddball invertebrate finds its place on the tree of life
Ancient oddball invertebrate finds its place on the tree of life
Tentacles protruding from this hyolith’s shell (illustrated) are part of a feeding organ called a lophophore, which is also found in modern horseshoe worms. Hyoliths are evolutionary misfits no more. This class of ancient marine invertebrates has now been firmly pegged as lophophorates, a group whose living members include horseshoe worms and lamp shells, concludes an analysis of more than 1,500 fossils, including preserved soft tissue. The soft-bodied creatures, encased in conical shells, concealed U-shaped guts and rings of tentacles called lophophores that surrounded their mouths. Fossil analysis suggests that hyoliths used those tentacles and spines, called helens, to trawl the seafloor more than 500 million years ago, researchers report online January 11 in Nature.

1-11-17 Mysterious fossils find place on the tree of life
Mysterious fossils find place on the tree of life
A strange animal that lived on the ocean floor 500 million years ago has been assigned to the tree of life, solving a long-held mystery. The creature has eluded scientific classification since the first fossil was discovered 175 years ago. The extinct hyolith has a cone-shaped shell, tentacles for feeding and appendages that acted as "feet". It belongs to an invertebrate group that includes animals such as the horseshoe worm, say scientists. Joseph Moysiuk, of the University of Toronto, made the discovery after analysing more than 1,500 specimens dug out of rocks in Canada and the US. "Hyoliths are small cone-shaped sea dwelling animals. They are known from all around the world, mostly from fossils of their shells," he told BBC News. "They appear in the fossil record about 530 million years ago and survived until about 250 million years ago. "But the question of where hyoliths actually fit into the tree of life has been somewhat of a mystery for the last 175 years, since they were first described." The research, published in the journal Nature, analysed soft tissue preserved in "very special fossils" from a site in Canada known as the Burgess Shale. In the past, hyoliths have been interpreted as being related to molluscs, which are common today and include squid, clams and snails. The new research suggests the animals are in fact more closely related to a different group of shell-bearing organisms, known as lophophorata, which includes brachipods (lamp shells), among others.

1-11-17 This is why you can’t help babbling to your dog like it’s a baby
This is why you can’t help babbling to your dog like it’s a baby
Competing theories for the use of baby talk on dogs are being untangled and it looks like it's got less to do with cute faces than you think, says Clive Wynne. Do you babble to your bichon, converse with your corgi or whisper to your whippet? If you do, you are not alone. Most of us talk to our dogs and, when we do, we often adopt the high-pitched sing-song voice that we use for babies. This “babyese” engages the attention of human infants better than a normal speaking voice and, by exaggerating intonation, it helps them learn language. The question is why we use it on our pets. Although there is a dog that knows the names of more than a thousand objects, most pooches get along fine understanding only a handful of our words and not one of them has ever learned to talk back. So why bother babbling at them? One possibility is that we just can’t help ourselves. Back in the 1940s, ethology pioneer Konrad Lorenz hypothesised that doe-eyed, button-nosed small animals press the same demand-for-care buttons as our own young. He called this baby schema. If this is the case, we should give up talking babyese to dogs as they grow up. An alternative theory is that we use this exaggerated intonation believing that it makes our utterances clearer. People don’t just talk babyese to babies, but also to the elderly, and to foreigners who don’t understand our language. So maybe we use it on dogs (“petois” anyone?) because we know they don’t understand us. If that’s the case, the age of the dog really shouldn’t make a difference.

1-11-17 'Puppy talk' - why do we use it and do dogs respond?
'Puppy talk' - why do we use it and do dogs respond?
We often speak to dogs and babies in a similar way. Scientists have decoded "dog-directed speech" for the first time, and they say puppies respond to it. Puppies reacted positively and wanted to play when researchers in France played them a tape of phrases like, "Who's a good boy?'' However, the international team of researchers found that adult dogs ignored this kind of speech. When we talk to dogs, we often speak slowly in a high-pitched voice, similar to the way we talk to young babies. The researchers think this way of talking may be our natural way of trying to interact with non-speaking listeners. Prof Nicolas Mathevon of the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne in France said pet-directed speech is similar to the way we talk to young infants, which is known to engage their attention and promote language learning. "We found that puppies are highly reactive to dog-directed speech, in the absence of any other cues, like visual cues," Prof Mathevon told BBC News. "Conversely we found that with adult dogs, they do not react differentially between dog-directed speech and normal speech."

1-11-17 Extinct giant goose used its wings to fight rather than fly
Extinct giant goose used its wings to fight rather than fly
Garganornis ballmanni, which lived on a Mediterranean island, was around 1.5 metres tall and had wing adaptations seen in birds that fight over territory. A giant goose that lived on a Mediterranean island between six and nine million years ago had wings tailored for combat. Weighing 22 kilograms and standing perhaps 1.5 metres tall, Garganornis ballmanni might be the biggest member of the duck, goose and swan family ever to have lived. Its fossilised bones have been found at Gargano and Scontrone in central Italy – a region that, during the Miocene, consisted of islands populated by unique species. Its wing bones are short for its size, suggesting it couldn’t fly. Now an analysis led by Marco Pavia at the University of Turin, Italy, shows that the carpometacarpus bone – equivalent to the hand bones in humans – had a rounded lump called the carpal knob, a feature present in modern birds that fight each other over territory. These include some ducks, geese and the extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the closest relative of the dodo. “It’s covered over with hard skin, so it becomes a really effective weapon. In solitaires, they certainly broke each others’ bones,” says Julian Hume of the Natural History Museum in London. Battles over territory are the most likely reason for Garganornis‘s fighting adaptation, says Hume.

1-11-17 Evidence falls into place for once and future supercontinents
Evidence falls into place for once and future supercontinents
From Nuna to Amasia, researchers are finding new clues to supercontinent comings and goings. Supercontinents come and go over the ages. Amasia, illustrated here from the North Pole, might form in the distant future. Look at any map of the Atlantic Ocean, and you might feel the urge to slide South America and Africa together. The two continents just beg to nestle next to each other, with Brazil’s bulge locking into West Africa’s dimple. That visible clue, along with several others, prompted Alfred Wegener to propose over a century ago that the continents had once been joined in a single enormous landmass. He called it Pangaea, or “all lands.” Today, geologists know that Pangaea was just the most recent in a series of mighty super-continents. Over hundreds of millions of years, enormous plates of Earth’s crust have drifted together and then apart. Pangaea ruled from roughly 400 million to about 200 million years ago. But wind the clock further back, and other supercontinents emerge. Between 1.3 billion and 750 million years ago, all the continents amassed in a great land known as Rodinia. Go back even further, about 1.4 billion years or more, and the crustal shards had arranged themselves into a supercontinent called Nuna.

1-10-17 Mini-brains made from teeth help reveal what makes us sociable
Mini-brains made from teeth help reveal what makes us sociable
Tiny balls of brain tissue made from donated stem cells from children with autism or a condition that makes them hyper-sociable show intriguing differences. Can tiny brains grown in a dish reveal the secrets of sociability? Balls of brain tissue generated from stem cells are enabling us to understand the underlying differences between people who struggle to be sociable and those who have difficulty reining themselves in. Alysson Muotri at the University of California, San Diego, and his team created the mini-brains by exposing stem cells taken from the pulp of children’s milk teeth to cocktails of growth factors that help them mature. Eventually, they can develop as many as six layers of cerebral cortex – the outer surface of the brain. This region is much more sophisticated in humans than in other animals, and houses important circuitry governing our most complex thoughts and behaviours, including socialising with others. Each mini-brain is approximately 5 millimetres across. “Though they’re not as well defined as they are in a real brain, they resemble what you find in an embryonic fetus,” says Muotri. To understand how brain development affects sociability, the team used donated cells from children with autism and Rett syndrome, both of which are associated with impaired communication skills. They also used cells from children with Williams syndrome, a condition characterised by a hyper-sociable nature. People with Williams syndrome can be unable to restrain themselves from talking to complete strangers.

1-9-17 Why mums and babies prefer to keep to one side of each other
Why mums and babies prefer to keep to one side of each other
Mothers prefer to hold children on the left, and animal young prefer to approach their mother from one side, too. Asymmetry in the brain may explain why. Mothers hold their children more on the left and wild mammals seem to keep their young more on that so too, at least when fleeing predators. Now it seems many mammal babies prefer to approach their mother from one side too – and the explanation may lie in the contrasting talents of each half of the brain. In mammals, the brain’s right hemisphere is responsible for processing social cues and building relationships. It is also the half of the brain that receives signals from the left eye. Some researchers think this explains why human and ape mothers tend to cradle their babies on the left: it is so they can better monitor their facial expressions with their left eye. Now, Janeane Ingram at the University of Tasmania, Australia, and her colleagues have looked at whether animal infants also prefer to observe their mum from one side. The team studied 11 wild mammals from around the world: horses, reindeer, antelopes, oxen, sheep, walruses, three species of whale and two species of kangaroo. Whenever an infant approached its mother from behind, the researchers noted whether it positioned itself on its mum’s left or right side. They recorded almost 11,000 position choices for 175 infant-mother pairs. Infants of all species were more likely to position themselves so that their mother was on their left. This happened about three-quarters of the time.

1-9-17 Mother-baby bonding insight revealed
Mother-baby bonding insight revealed
Scientists say they have solved the mystery of why mothers tend to cradle newborn babies on the left. This position activates the right hemisphere of the brain, which is involved in functions that help in communication and bonding, they say. The "positional bias" is not unique to humans, with their advanced brains, but is also found in animals, according to researchers in Russia. Similar behaviour has been seen in baby mammals following their mothers. They include kangaroos and horses on land and walruses and orcas in the sea. Dr Yegor Malashichev of Saint Petersburg State University, said the position helped in survival and social bonding. "If there is no eye contact, or it is wrong, there is no activation of the right hemisphere of the infant... the right hemisphere is responsible for social interactions," he told BBC News. "All the [11] species we studied demonstrated the lateral bias. "We suggest that this bias is even more widespread and may be a characteristic of all mammals, with few exceptions. "

1-9-17 Gene-silencing spray lets us modify plants without changing DNA
Gene-silencing spray lets us modify plants without changing DNA
A single application keeps working for nearly a month, which could allow us to modify plants without actually altering their DNA. Don’t like the look of those roses in your garden? One day you might be able to buy a spray that changes the colour of their flowers by silencing certain genes. Farmers may use similar gene-silencing sprays to boost yields, make their crops more nutritious, protect them from droughts and trigger ripening. The technique could let us change plant traits without altering their DNA. “A spray can be used immediately without having to go through the years involved in development of a GM or conventionally bred crop,” says David Baulcombe at the University of Cambridge, who studies gene silencing in plants. One spray can also be used on many different varieties, he points out. Companies like Monsanto are already developing gene-silencing sprays that get inside bugs and kill them by disabling vital genes. Now a team at the University of Queensland in Australia has managed to achieve long-lasting gene silencing inside plant cells. They have protected tobacco plants from a virus for 20 days with a single application of a gene-silencing spray. “We believe it offers a step change in environmentally sustainable crop protection,” says team member Neena Mitter. The technique should allow plant traits to be altered, too, but the team has not tried this as they are focusing on crop protection. Many other teams around the world are trying to achieve such long-lasting effects in plants. Mitter’s is the first to publish such results.

1-9-17 Zapping the brain really does seem to improve depression
Zapping the brain really does seem to improve depression
Can stimulating the brain with electricity really make you better? Many are sceptical, but an analysis now suggests it can help with depression and addiction. Now we know – zapping the brain with electricity really does seem to improve some medical conditions, meaning it may be a useful tool for treating depression. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) involves using electrodes to send a weak current across the brain. Stimulating brain tissue like this has been linked to effects ranging from accelerated learning to improving the symptoms of depression and faster recovery from strokes. Thousands of studies have suggested the technique may be useful for everything from schizophrenia and Parkinson’s to tinnitus and autism. However, replicating such studies has generally been difficult, and two recent analyses found no evidence that tDCS is effective, leading some to say that the technique is largely a sham. “There are too many folks out there right now who are using electrical brain stimulation in a cavalier way,” says Michael Weisend, a tDCS researcher at Rio Grande Neuroscience in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “At best it has an effect that’s poorly understood, at worst it could be dangerous.” Now a review has weighed up the best available evidence. It has found that depression, addiction and fibromyalgia are most likely to respond to tDCS treatment.

1-7-17 ‘Furry Logic’ showcases how animals exploit physics
‘Furry Logic’ showcases how animals exploit physics
Book chronicles use of light, magnetism and other phenomena. When peacocks shake their tail feathers, they make low-frequency sounds that attract peahens. This manipulation of sound is one example of animals’ use of physics detailed in Furry Logic. Warning: Furry Logic is not, as the title might suggest, a detailed exploration of mammals’ reasoning skills. Instead, it’s a fun, informative chronicle of how myriad animals take advantage of the laws of physics. Science writers Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher cite a trove of recent (and often surprising) research findings. They draw on their backgrounds — Durrani is a physicist, Kalaugher a materials scientist — to explain how animals exploit sound, light, electricity and magnetism, among other things, in pursuit of food, sex and survival. These creatures don’t consciously use physics the way that humans design and use tools, of course, but they are evolutionary marvels nonetheless. (Webmaster's comment: If it helps an animals survive and breed, and it can be encoded in the animal's DNA, it will be endcoded, even quantum phenomena.)

1-7-17 Urbanisation signal detected in evolution, study shows
Urbanisation signal detected in evolution, study shows
For the first time, researchers say they have identified urbanisation's signature in evolution. A "clear signal" of urbanisation has been identified in the evolution of organisms, which has implications for sustainability and human well-being. In analysis of more than 1,600 cases around the globe, researchers said the changes could affect ecosystem services important to humans. More than half of the world's human populations now live in urban areas, and this proportion is set to grow. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We found that there is a clear urban signal of phenotypic change, and also greater phenotypic change in urbanising systems compared to natural or non-urban anthropogenic systems," said co-author Marina Alberti from the University of Washington's Department of Urban Design and Planning. "So urbanisation, globally, is clearly affecting things." Phenotypic change refers to change in an organism's observable traits, such as it morphology, physiology, phenology, or behaviour.

1-6-17 Meat-eating pitcher plants raise deathtraps to an art
Meat-eating pitcher plants raise deathtraps to an art
Green carnivores hunt with scum and sweets. Scientists thought the red-veined forked frill that grows at the mouth of a California pitcher plant’s water trap was an insect lure, but now they’re not so sure. Tricking some bug into drowning takes finesse, especially for a hungry meat eater with no brain, eyes or moving parts. Yet California pitcher plants are very good at it. Growing where deposits of the mineral serpentine would kill most other plants, Darlingtonia californica survives in low-nutrient soil by being “very meat dependent,” says David Armitage of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Leaves he has tested get up to 95 percent of their nitrogen from wasps, beetles, ants or other insects that become trapped inside the snake-curved hollow leaves. The leaves don’t collect rainwater because a green dome covers the top. Instead, they suck moisture up through the roots and (somehow) release it into the hollow trap. “People have been doing weird experiments where they feed [a plant] meat and milk and other things to try to trigger it to release water,” Armitage says. Experiments tempting the green carnivore with cheese, beef broth, egg whites and so on suggest there’s some sort of chemical cue.

1-6-17 Fossil fruit from 52 million years ago revealed
Fossil fruit from 52 million years ago revealed
A fossilised fruit dating back 52 million years has been discovered in South America. The ancient berry belongs to a family of plants that includes popular foods such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. The plant family's early history is largely unknown as, until now, only a few seeds have been found in the fossil record. Scientists say the origins of the class go back much further than previously thought, by tens of millions of years. The plant, a type of Physalis, was found in a fossilised rainforest in Patagonia. It belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family of flowering plants, which includes crops, tobacco, medicinal plants and garden flowers such as the petunia.

1-5-17 Tomatillo fossil is oldest nightshade plant
Tomatillo fossil is oldest nightshade plant
Pocketed berry is millions of years older than earlier estimates. A 52-million-year-old fossil of a tomatillo includes the plant’s papery outer sheath, and remnants of the blackened berry, which has since turned to coal. Two tiny tomatillo fossils have kicked the origin of nightshade plants back to the age of dinosaurs. The fossils, pressed into 52-million-year-old rock, suggest that the nightshade family originated millions of years earlier than scientists had suspected, researchers report in the Jan. 6 Science. Nightshades include roughly 2,500 species of plants, from tomatoes to eggplants to tobacco. Previous estimates had dated the family to some 30 to 51 million years ago. And scientists had suggested that tomatillos, specifically, arose even more recently, around 10 million years ago. Paleontologist Peter Wilf and colleagues have nixed that timeline. They uncovered the roughly 2-centimeter-tall fossils from an ancient lake in what is now Patagonia. Each fossil preserves the delicate, tissue-paper-like sheath that typically covers a tomatillo’s central berry, like a candle inside a paper lantern. In one fossil, evidence of a berry (now turned to coal) still remains.

1-5-17 Facial-processing area of brain keeps growing throughout childhood
Facial-processing area of brain keeps growing throughout childhood
MRI scans suggest neural development involves more than just pruning. Researchers found changes in the brain tissue of children and adults in the fusiform gyrus, a facial recognition area shown in pink in this brain model. But the team didn’t see the same effect in the collateral sulcus (green), which is involved in recognizing places. A part of the brain that’s responsible for recognizing faces seems to grow new tissue throughout childhood. That’s surprising, because brain development during childhood usually involves pruning back neural connections rather than growing new ones, researchers report in the Jan. 6 Science. The research shows that “pruning isn’t the only game in town,” says Brad Duchaine, a psychologist at Dartmouth College who wasn’t part of the study. “I’m really excited about it.” Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to identify regions of the brain’s visual cortex that showed more activity when processing faces versus regions that lit up when processing photos of places like cityscapes or hallways. Then the scientists compared the structures of those regions in 22 kids’ brains (ages 5 to 12) with those of 25 young adults (ages 22 to 28). The place-sensitive area — the collateral sulcus — didn’t change dramatically between childhood and adulthood. But face-sensitive areas in a region called the fusiform gyrus did. Adults had denser fusiform gyrus brain tissue than kids and that tissue contained a different composition of cells and proteins, the researchers found.

1-5-17 Brain’s face recognition area grows much bigger as we get older
Brain’s face recognition area grows much bigger as we get older
As we enter adulthood, one part of our brain significantly expands. Occurring later than most brain growth, the change may help us keep track of who we meet. If you feel overwhelmed by an ever-growing social circle, fear not. Your brain can keep up with all those new faces, thanks to one region that continues to grow even in adulthood. The discovery is surprising, because most changes to the brain as it matures involve the altering of existing connections between neurons. But brain scans have revealed that one area of the cortex, the fusiform gyrus, gets much larger as we age. The fusiform gyrus is thought to play a role in recognising faces, something that adults are better at doing than children. Brain scans of 47 people of different ages found – after taking into account the differing overall sizes of their brains – that adults had 12.6 per cent more solid brain matter in this area than children did. “What’s surprising here is that the changes involve a different mechanism, expansion not pruning,” says Kalanit Grill-Spector at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, whose team made the discovery.< It is thought that almost all brain remodelling occurs during infancy, childhood and adolescence, but surprisingly, this expansion of the fusiform gyrus seems to happen later in life, says Grill-Spector.

1-5-17 Hunter-gatherers were possibly first to call Tibetan Plateau home
Hunter-gatherers were possibly first to call Tibetan Plateau home
High-altitude foragers moved in long before farmers, new dates indicate. New dates for hand- and footprints on a rock slab suggest that foragers lived year-round on the Tibetan Plateau, shown here, well before farmers did. Much about initial settlement of this high-altitude region remains unclear, though. People hunted and foraged year-round in the thin air of China’s Tibetan Plateau at least 7,400 to 8,400 years ago, a new study suggests. And permanent settlers of the high-altitude region might even have arrived as early as 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Three lines of dating evidence indicate that humans occupied the central Tibetan Plateau’s Chusang site, located more than 4,000 meters above sea level, at least 2,200 years earlier than previously thought, say geologist Michael Meyer of the University of Innsbruck in Austria and colleagues. Their report, published in the Jan. 6 Science, challenges the idea that the Tibetan Plateau lacked permanent settlers until farming groups arrived around 5,200 years ago. “Hunter-gatherers permanently occupied the Tibetan Plateau by around 8,000 years ago, which coincided with a strong monsoon throughout Asia that created wet conditions on the plateau,” Meyer says.

1-5-17 How early humans made Inuits resistant to cold weather
How early humans made Inuits resistant to cold weather
Genome analysis can tell us so much about where our modern traits came from. When Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors soon discovered that they were not the only humans. As they spread throughout Europe and into Asia, they encountered hominid cousins like the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, and, as genome analysis tells us, started having a whole bunch of sex. These couplings conferred evolutionary advantages that humans still benefit from eons later. And some of the biggest beneficiaries are Arctic Inuits and others living in some of the world's coldest places, according to a recent study. While Neanderthals were first discovered in the early 19th century, we've only known of the Denisovans since 2010 when a 41,000-year-old bone fragment was discovered in a Siberian cave. Their discovery revealed that, until relatively recently in paleontological terms, our ancestors shared the planet with other, closely related hominids. The Denisovan discovery shattered the last vestiges of the old way of viewing human evolution, which saw a relatively orderly progression from the earliest hominids to our species today, with Neanderthals notable mostly as an evolutionary "dead end."

1-5-17 Dementia rates 'higher near busy roads'
Dementia rates 'higher near busy roads'
People who live near major roads have higher rates of dementia, research published in the Lancet suggests. As many as 11% of dementia cases in people living within 50m of a major road could be down to traffic, the study suggests. The researchers, who followed nearly 2m people in Canada over 11 years, say air pollution or noisy traffic could be contributing to the brain's decline. UK dementia experts said the findings needed probing but were "plausible". Nearly 50 million people around the world have dementia. However, the causes of the disease, that robs people of their memories and brain power, are not understood.

1-4-17 Living near a highway may increase dementia risk by 7 per cent
Living near a highway may increase dementia risk by 7 per cent
Living within 50 metres of a busy road like a motorway or highway is linked to higher risk of developing dementia. Air pollution may partly be to blame. Living close to a motorway or highway may increase the risk of developing dementia, according to a study of more than six million adults in Canada. Tracking these people over a period of 11 years found a clear link between dementia incidence and living near a main road, comparable to the M1 or M4 in the UK, or major state or interstate highways in the US. Compared with those whose homes were more than 300 metres away from a busy road, people living within 50 metres of heavy traffic had a 7 per cent higher risk of developing dementia. This increase falls to 4 per cent in people living between 50 to 100 metres of a busy road, and 2 per cent in people living between 101 and 200 metres. At greater distances, there was no evidence of a link with the condition. “Our findings show the closer you live to roads with heavy day-to-day traffic, the greater the risk of developing dementia,” says Hong Chen, at Public Health Ontario, who led the study. “With our widespread exposure to traffic and the greater tendency for people to live in cities these days, this has serious public health implications.”

1-4-17 Brain shrinks less in older people who eat Mediterranean diet
Brain shrinks less in older people who eat Mediterranean diet
As we age, our brains shrink. A study of 401 people in their 70s suggests that a diet high in vegetables and olive oil is linked to slightly less shrinkage. Eating a Mediterranean diet has been linked to less brain shrinkage in older adults. Human brains naturally shrink with age. But a study that followed 401 people in their 70s found that the brains of those who adhered more closely to a Mediterranean-style diet shrank significantly less over a period of three years. A typical Mediterranean diet contains a high amount of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, beans and cereal grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy products, and wine, and only a small amount of red meat and poultry. “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells, which can affect learning and memory,” says Michelle Luciano, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who led the study. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.” The differences in brain shrinkage were measured using brain scans. Statistical analysis of diet data found that simply eating more fish and less meat were not associated with reduced shrinking. “While the study points to diet having a small effect on changes in brain size, it didn’t look at the effect on risk of dementia,” says David Reynolds, at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK. “We would need to see follow-up studies in order to investigate any potential protective effects against problems with memory and thinking.” Other studies have found that being overweight seems to accelerate shrinking of the brain’s white matter.

1-4-17 False memory helps us think but we can’t do it when we’re tired
False memory helps us think but we can’t do it when we’re tired
Our brains generalise information, linking and associating related concepts. The process can help us improvise in exams – but only if we’ve had enough sleep. IT PAYS to have false memories. Our brains use them to generalise new information – but lack of sleep gets in the way. False memory was discovered in an experiment that asked volunteers to memorise lists of related words and then recall them. When they learned “bed”, “drowsy” and “dream”, about half later also remembered the word “sleep”. That’s because well-rested brains normally use “associative memory” to link related concepts together. “There’s a lot of evidence that the brain cares less about individual data and more about the gist of it or what it means,” says Alex Chatburn at the University of South Australia in Adelaide. Chatburn and his team have found that sleep deprivation inhibits this. They asked 44 people to memorise lists of words when they were well rested, had slept for only four hours on each of the previous four nights, or hadn’t slept at all for the past 30 hours. Unsurprisingly, when they were immediately asked to recall these words, the volunteers did less well when partially or completely sleep-deprived. But when shown a new list and asked which ones had been on the original list, sleep-deprived people were less likely to misremember (Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, doi.org/bvz9). “When a tired person came to a word that had the same gist but wasn’t entirely familiar, they were inclined to say they didn’t remember it,” says Chatburn. “This shows that not only were they less able to learn individual items, they were also less able to extract their meaning.”

1-4-17 Simple blood test can detect genetic diseases early in pregnancy
Simple blood test can detect genetic diseases early in pregnancy
Together, single-gene disorders are more common than Down’s syndrome. Now there’s a safe prenatal test that can help prospective parents decide what to do. A FAST test for genetic disorders means women could learn about the future health of their baby as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy. The test for single-gene disorders, which are collectively more common than Down’s syndrome, could become available within five years. This would enable prospective parents to choose whether to proceed with a pregnancy if conditions like muscular dystrophy or Huntington’s disease are detected. “This is just sensational – I’m completely blown away,” says Andrew McLennan, a specialist in prenatal diagnosis at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Many inherited diseases, including sickle cell anaemia, haemophilia and cystic fibrosis, are caused by mutations within a single gene. We know of 10,000 single-gene conditions and together, they affect about one in 100 births. At the moment, options for prospective parents are limited. Embryos can be screened using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), if couples opt for IVF. Those who conceive naturally can have tests like amniocentesis, but these carry a small risk of miscarriage, and detect a limited number of genetic disorders.

1-4-17 Grow with the flow: how electricity kicks life into shape
Grow with the flow: how electricity kicks life into shape
Forget DNA – bioelectrical signals direct blobs of cells to transform into any part of the body. Can this spark a medical revolution? FROM the tail of the leafy sea-dragon to the toucan’s beak and the human hand, each and every one of the myriad forms assumed by living things starts out as an amorphous blob of cells. It’s one of the biggest mysteries of life: what choreographs billions of cells to create so many intricate anatomical patterns, what Charles Darwin preferred to call “endless forms most beautiful”? It’s all in the genes, of course. Except that it’s not. These days, biologists are investigating a long-overlooked aspect of shape control: the electrical signals that constantly crackle between cells. Whether in embryonic development or repairing parts of the body, bioelectricity seems have a big say in telling cells how to grow and where to go. It also appears to play an important role in the astonishing knack some creatures have to regrow lost or damaged limbs. If we can figure out precisely how it encodes patterns of tissue formation – if we can crack the “bioelectric code” – the possibilities would be startling. Not only will we get a deeper understanding of evolutionary change, we could revolutionise tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. “Once we know how anatomy is encoded, we will be able to make shapes on demand,” says Michael Levin, a developmental biologist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

1-3-17 Woman hit by lightning loses synaesthesia – but then it returns
Woman hit by lightning loses synaesthesia – but then it returns
One woman’s unique experiences are helping us understand the nature of synaesthesia. We don’t know yet what causes synaesthesia, which links senses and can enable people to taste words or smell sounds, for example. It may be at least partly genetic, as it tends to run in families. Some researchers think a brain chemical called serotonin might play a role, because hallucinogenic drugs that alter serotonin levels in the brain can create unusual perceptions. There’s also some evidence that synaesthesia can change or disappear, and a detailed assessment of one woman’s experiences is helping Kevin Mitchell at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and his team investigate. The woman, referred to as “AB”, sees colours when she hears music, linked to pitch, volume or instrument – higher notes have more pastel shades. She also associates colours with people, largely based on personality. Green is linked to loyalty, for instance.

1-3-17 How the world's turn to right-wing populism could make us physically sick
How the world's turn to right-wing populism could make us physically sick
As right-wing populism fuels a growing crackdown on democracy and civil liberties, lawyers and human rights advocates aren't the only people getting nervous. Public health experts are, too. Why? Because studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrate quite clearly that as authoritarianism rises, indicators of health fall. Donald Trump's election took many in the United States by surprise. But viewed in the context of what's been happening in Europe and other parts of the world, it is just one part of a broader trend. Trump, like ascending conservative leaders and parties in France, Germany, and Italy, among others, has proposed tighter controls on immigration and a rollback of long-standing foreign alliances. With authoritarian politicians and ideas proliferating, the consequences could extend well beyond the realm of policy — we may get sicker. Several researchers have found a statistically significant relationship between the level of freedom or democracy in a country and the health of its population. In a 2004 article in the BMJ, Alvaro Franco and his colleagues compared health statistics to the freedom index produced by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization. They found that free countries — those that respect political rights and civil liberties — had higher life expectancy and lower maternal and infant mortality than partially or not free countries.

1-3-17 These acorn worms have a head for swimming
These acorn worms have a head for swimming
Putting off trunk development may make catching prey easier, researchers say. This marine acorn worm spends its larval phase as essentially a “swimming head” before metamorphosing into a juvenile, according to new genetic analyses. Adult worms can grow up to about 40 centimeters.

1-3-17 Ancient Egyptian pot burials were not just for the poor
Ancient Egyptian pot burials were not just for the poor
Interment in ceramic vessels may have symbolized a rebirth to afterlife. Ancient Egyptians buried children and adults in pots. The hollow vessels mirror the womb and may have symbolized a rebirth into the afterlife, scientists report. New research is stirring the pot about an ancient Egyptian burial practice. Many ancient peoples, including Egyptians, buried some of their dead in ceramic pots or urns. Researchers have long thought these pot burials, which often recycled containers used for domestic purposes, were a common, make-do burial for poor children. But at least in ancient Egypt, the practice was not limited to children or to impoverished families, according to a new analysis. Bioarchaeologist Ronika Power and Egyptologist Yann Tristant, both of Macquarie University in Sydney, reviewed published accounts of pot burials at 46 sites, most near the Nile River and dating from about 3300 B.C. to 1650 B.C. Their results appear in the December Antiquity.

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