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128 Evolution News Articles
for July 2017
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7-31-17 Blood biomarkers may help diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome
Blood biomarkers may help diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome
The severity of chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephomyelitis, has been linked to higher levels of 17 inflammation biomarkers in the blood. Inflammation biomarkers may help doctors diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a poorly-understood condition in which people feeling continually exhausted. These biomarkers could also give new clues to what causes the condition, and how to treat it. The biomarkers were discovered when a team of researchers screened the blood of 192 people with chronic fatigue syndrome for cytokines – substances used by the immune system to control inflammation. The team compared the levels of 51 different cytokines in the people with CFS and 392 people who didn’t have the condition, and found that 17 cytokines rose in tandem with how bad a person’s CFS was. “These 17 go up by various degrees in a straight line with severity,” says José Montoya, of Stanford University. Overall, only one cytokine was consistently higher in people with CFS. But when severity was taken into account, the other 16 emerged from the analysis as being linked to the condition. For example, three-times as much of the appetite hormone leptin, which is part of the cytokine family, was present in people with very bad cases of CFS.

7-31-17 Mice with a mutation linked to autism affect their littermates’ behavior
Mice with a mutation linked to autism affect their littermates’ behavior
Experiments show importance of social environment, not just genes. Mice with an autism-related mutation affected the behavior of their genetically normal littermates, a new study shows. The company mice keep can change their behavior. In some ways, genetically normal littermates behave like mice that carry an autism-related mutation, despite not having the mutation themselves, scientists report. The results, published July 31 in eNeuro, suggest that the social environment influences behavior in complex and important ways, says neuroscientist Alice Luo Clayton of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative in New York City. The finding comes from looking past the mutated mice to their nonmutated littermates, which are usually not a subject of scrutiny. “People almost never look at it from that direction,” says Clayton, who wasn’t involved in the study. Researchers initially planned to investigate the social behavior of mice that carried a mutation found in some people with autism. Studying nonmutated mice wasn’t part of the plan. “We stumbled into this,” says study coauthor Stéphane Baudouin, a neurobiologist at Cardiff University in Wales.

7-30-17 Does your sunscreen make the grade?
Does your sunscreen make the grade?
Scientists say that your sunscreen might not be working as well as you hope. In the United States, sunscreen use is on the rise — but so are skin cancer cases. What's going on? As it turns out, it could come down to the types of sunscreen we're using. In a recent test of nearly 1,500 sunscreens, moisturizers, and lip balms that advertised sun protection, scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 73 percent of the products don't provide the protection consumers think they're getting, or they contain questionable ingredients. One issue: While most sunscreens protect against short wave ultraviolet B radiation, the main culprit behind sunburns, there's also ultraviolet A radiation to worry about — longer-wavelength rays that contribute to melanoma and long-term skin damage. "We don't think products are providing adequate amount of UVA protection, especially in relationship to the SPF [sun protection factor] on the label," says David Andrews, a senior scientist with the EWG. Since the Food and Drug Administration changed its rules for sunscreen labeling in 2011, more sunscreens now include UVA protection, Andrews notes — just not enough. "And so we think it's imperative that those values be very balanced," he says. "For example, a T-shirt will give you perfect balance across the entire spectrum. It'll do just as well of blocking the UVA light as it does the UVB radiation."

7-28-17 Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Flatworms can still ‘see’ even after they are decapitated
Biologically simple they may be, but planarian flatworms have evolved two completely different ways to detect light – and one doesn’t involve their heads. Off with their heads. Light-averse planarian flatworms, known for their incredible ability to regenerate lost body parts, shy away from light even after they have been decapitated. This suggests they have evolved a second way to respond to light that doesn’t involve eyes. Planarian flatworms, which often live in dark, watery environments shielded from direct light, don’t have complex eyes like we do. But many do have two lensless, primitive “eyespots” on their heads that can detect the intensity of light. Akash Gulyani at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, and his colleagues were curious to find out more about flatworm vision. They studied the species Schmidtea mediterranea, confirming that its eyespots encourage the animals to shy away from visible light. Unexpectedly, it turned out that S. mediterranea actually has colour vision of sorts. Even though its eyespots lack wavelength-specific photoreceptors, Gulyani’s team found that the animal was more likely to move away from blue than red light. The researchers think the worms are distinguishing between different colours by comparing the amount of light being absorbed by the two eyespots, rather than seeing the colour of the light itself: for instance, they could override the flatworm’s preference for red over blue light by increasing the intensity of the former.

7-28-17 Newborn baby’s infection offers a cautionary tale about placenta pills
Newborn baby’s infection offers a cautionary tale about placenta pills
One woman’s placenta pills were found to be contaminated with Group B Streptococcus, bacteria that may have caused a dangerous infection in her newborn. Here’s one story new mothers considering eating their placenta might want to pay extra attention to: Oregon doctors suspect that contaminated placenta pills may have caused a dangerous infection in a newborn. Just after birth, this newborn had trouble breathing. Tests revealed a blood infection with Group B Streptococcus, or GBS. These bacteria are found in about a quarter of healthy women’s nether regions and can pose a danger to newborns. The baby probably picked up a GBS infection while passing through the birth canal. After a round of ampicillin, the baby went home healthy. But five days later, the baby was in trouble again. Doctors at a second hospital found more GBS in the blood. After another round of antibiotics, two types this time, the baby was again sent home. Doctors at the second hospital learned that three days after the baby had been born, the mother had begun eating six placenta capsules daily. She had hired a company to clean, slice and dehydrate her placenta before grinding it up and putting it into pills. Lab tests found the exact same strain of GBS that had infected the baby in the placenta pills. Genevieve Buser and colleagues published the case details June 30 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

7-28-17 The anti-dementia diet
The anti-dementia diet
A diet that’s good for the heart can also help protect the brain, dramatically reducing the risk for dementia, new research reveals. Scientists assessed the eating habits of nearly 6,000 older Americans along with their cognitive status. They found a 35 percent lower risk for mental decline in those who ate a Mediterranean or similar diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, nuts and extra-virgin olive oil, CNN.com reports. Mind-protective diets include small portions of lean proteins, particularly fish, but little or no red meat, saturated fats, sugar, or refined carbohydrates. Such a diet also greatly reduces the risk of heart disease, and researchers point out that the brain relies on healthy blood flow from the heart for oxygen and essential nutrients that sustain its normal function.

7-28-17 Slimy slugs inspire 'potentially lifesaving' medical glue
Slimy slugs inspire 'potentially lifesaving' medical glue
A defensive mucus secreted by slugs has inspired a new kind of adhesive that could transform medicine, say scientists. The "bio-glue" is incredibly strong, moves with the body and crucially, sticks to wet surfaces. The team at Harvard University have even used it to seal a hole in a pig's heart. Experts have described the glue as "really cool" and said there would be "absolutely huge demand" for it. Getting something to stick to a damp surface has been a huge challenge - think what happens when you get a plaster on your finger wet. The university's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering turned to the "Dusky Arion" slug, which creates sticky mucus as a defence against predators. "We engineered our material to take on the key features of slug mucus and the result is really positive," researcher Dr Jianyu Li said. The bio-glue they produced has two components - the actual adhesive and a biochemical "shock absorber". The incredible stickiness comes from the trinity of the attraction between the positively charged glue and negatively charged cells in the body; covalent bonds between atoms in the cell surface and the glue, and the way the glue physically penetrates tissue surfaces.

7-28-17 Keep having nightmares? You may be getting too much sleep
Keep having nightmares? You may be getting too much sleep
One of the largest ever studies of the causes of nightmares has found that they are linked to worrying before bedtime, and sleeping for more than 9 hours. Have you recently arrived at work naked or turned up for an exam without revising? If you want to avoid having nightmares like these, it might be best to get less than 9 hours’ sleep a night. People often have nightmares following upsetting events, and research into nightmares has mostly focused on people with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But most people get nightmares at some point, prompting Stephanie Rek at the University of Oxford and her colleagues to perform one of the largest ever studies of nightmares in the general population. The team recruited 846 people through media advertisements and databases of people interested in sleep studies, and asked them to complete an online survey. The participants were asked questions such as how many nightmares they had experienced over the past two weeks, and how bad they were. These answers contributed to an overall score on a “nightmare severity scale”. Each volunteer was also assessed for PTSD and asked about other aspects of their life, such as recent divorces or legal trouble, their tendency to worry, how much sleep they get and how much alcohol they drink. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team found that worrying about the future, or about doing things wrong, was most strongly associated with the frequency and severity of nightmares. The team suggest that worrying before bedtime feeds negative dream content, increasing the chance of nightmares – in line with the idea that dreams reflect waking life experiences, capturing the daytime concerns of the dreamer.

7-28-17 Secrets of the world's toughest creatures revealed
Secrets of the world's toughest creatures revealed
Genetic analyses of tardigrades has revealed some of the secrets of their incredible survival abilities. These tiny creatures, sometimes called water bears, can survive radiation, freezing, extreme dehydration and even the vacuum of space. Researchers have now decoded the DNA of two species of tardigrade and uncovered the genes that allow them to be revived after desiccation. The study has been published in the journal, PLOS Biology. Just a millimetre or less in size, tardigrades are believed to be the toughest creatures on Earth. A recent study found that they could survive almost any cosmic disaster that could hit the planet. Tardigrades are often found in locations that dry out such as in moss and in ponds. Over time they have acquired the ability to survive extreme dehydration and spring back to life years later in the presence of water. In this new paper, scientists found that the key to their survival is genetic. Dry conditions trigger some of the creature's genes to produce proteins which replace missing water in their cells. Once water is available again it refills the cells dissolving the proteins. The researchers say understanding this innate survival ability of tardigrades could have benefits for humans, such as allowing live vaccines to be posted around the world and stored without refrigeration.

7-28-17 One creature that will outlast us
One creature that will outlast us
The hardiest animals on the planet aren’t large, brawny, or cunning. This distinction goes to simple-brained, water-dwelling micro-animals called tardigrades, or water bears. In new research, scientists have concluded that these nearly indestructible eight-legged creatures, which have been around for some 600 million years, will remain on Earth for another billion years—long after people and other animals are gone. There are more than 1,000 species of tardigrades. Each one has certain adaptations that enable it to tolerate otherwise lethal conditions, including extreme temperatures, intense radiation, and airlessness. A group of theoretical physicists contemplating various doomsday scenarios used these resilient animals as a barometer for the tenacity of life on Earth. The team considered three potential threats: a gamma-ray burst, a giant asteroid impact, and a supernova (the massive explosion of a nearby star). They found that none of these events would obliterate all tardigrades—even if Earth’s ozone layer and oxygen-rich atmosphere were destroyed, NationalGeographic.com reports. “Tardigrades,” says study author Rafael Alves Batista of the University of Oxford, “are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth.”

7-28-17 You could outrun a T. rex
You could outrun a T. rex
Science-fiction movies such as Jurassic Park depict the 20-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex racing after its prey, but a new analysis finds that the 9-ton flesh eater couldn’t run. It was more of a speed walker. Using advanced computer simulations, researchers analyzed how the weight of an adult T. rex was distributed as it moved, and how its bones would handle this stress. They found its skeleton was capable of running movements, but if the dinosaur had actually tried to accelerate beyond a brisk walk, its legs would have buckled and shattered under the pressure, reports Gizmodo?.com. The study’s authors calculate that most people would be able to outrun the prehistoric predator, which was unable to exceed speeds of roughly 12 mph. Experts point out that T. rex really didn’t need to be all that fast to catch its lumbering prey. “The available herbivorous dinosaurs in its -environment—-Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, -Ankylosaurus—were all much slower than an adult T. rex,” says paleontologist Thomas Carr. “It was just slaughter in the slow lane.”

7-27-17 Half the atoms inside your body came from across the universe
Half the atoms inside your body came from across the universe
Intergalactic winds carry gas and dust from one galaxy to the next, bringing half of the matter in our galaxy from up to a million light years away. Half of the atoms making up everything around you are intergalactic interlopers. Large galaxies like our Milky Way amassed half their matter from neighbouring star clusters up to a million light years away, according to a new simulation. “We did not realise how much of the mass in today’s Milky Way-like galaxies was actually ‘stolen’ from the winds of other galaxies,” says corresponding author Claude-André Faucher-Giguère at Northwestern University in Illinois. The theft occurs after a death. When some stars reach the end of their life cycle, they become massive supernovae, spewing high-speed gas out into the universe. The matter in these ejections is picked up by galactic winds, streams of charged particles powered by the exploding supernovae. It was previously thought that galactic winds couldn’t be the source of much intergalactic matter transfer because they weren’t powerful enough to cross the vast distances that separate neighbouring galaxies. Turns out, they’re stronger than we thought. “We assumed that the winds were confined to the galaxies they came from – that they could recycle by falling back onto the galaxy that ejected them, but not transfer much mass from one galaxy to another,” says Faucher-Giguère. Over a galaxy’s lifetime, it will swap matter continuously with its neighbours and the journey between one galaxy and another could take anywhere from several hundred million to 2 billion years, he says.

7-27-17 Slug slime inspires a new type of surgical glue
Slug slime inspires a new type of surgical glue
Gelatinous slug slime inspired a new adhesive, which sticks strongly to wet surfaces such as a pig heart. For a glue that holds up inside the body, turn to the humble slug, Arion subfuscus. A new super-sticky material mimics slug slime’s ability to stick on slick wet surfaces and could lead to more effective medical adhesives. The material has two parts: a sticky layer that attaches to a surface, and a shock-absorbing layer that reduces strain. That makes the adhesive less likely to snap off. Researchers tested the material as a surgical adhesive in a number of different scenarios: It stuck to pig skin and liver. It latched on to a beating pig’s heart, even when the surface was coated in blood. It sealed up a heart defect, preventing liquid from leaking even when the organ was inflated and deflated tens of thousands of times. And it was less toxic in the body than a commonly used commercialized tissue adhesive, researchers report July 28 in Science. The researchers hope the material could someday be used in surgical procedures in place of invasive sutures and staples.

7-27-17 Tardigrade genomes help explain how they survive without water
Tardigrade genomes help explain how they survive without water
Water bears, or tardigrades, can survive long periods without any water – discovering how they do it could lead to new ways to store vaccines in desiccated form. Tardigrades are spilling more of the secrets about their seeming invincibility. Genetic analysis of these tiny creatures, better known as water bears, is helping to unlock the mystery of how they can survive desiccation, and may also help to place them on the tree of life. For most animals, dehydration spells disaster. The membranes inside their cells collapse without water to hold them in place, causing the cells die. But for two species of tardigrade whose genomes were examined in the new study – Hypsibius dujardini and Ramazzottius varieornatus – a lack of water isn’t fatal.A team including Mark Blaxter at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and Kazuharu Arakawa at Keio University in Tokyo has confirmed that the two species make highly soluble, tardigrade-specific proteins. These help the insides of cells maintain their shape even in the absence of water and so avoid damage. But one of the two tardigrades needs a heads-up. “The strategies are the same, but H. dujardini needs 24 hours’ warning to make these proteins, and R. varieornatus is ready at all times,” says Blaxter. This difference relates to how fast they can dry out. R. varieornatus is often found in moss on concrete roads and can dry out within 30 minutes, while H. dujardini lives in ponds and takes 24 to 48 hours to dry. But the genome studies show that the two share an almost identical set of genes that kick in when water vanishes, says Arakawa. The only difference is how those genes are regulated, he says.

7-27-17 Tardigrades aren’t champion gene swappers after all
Tardigrades aren’t champion gene swappers after all
Study dispels claims of extreme DNA borrowing and moves the bizarre creatures on the tree of life. Genetic analysis of tardigrades like Ramazzottius varieornatus shown in a scanning electron micrograph are revealing what makes the tough little creatures tick.

7-27-17 Bronze Age DNA helps unravel true fate of biblical Canaanites
Bronze Age DNA helps unravel true fate of biblical Canaanites
DNA from five ancient skeletons confirms the Canaanites of biblical fame live on in modern day Lebanon. Whatever became of the Canaanites? Famously, they appeared on the losing side in one of the best known biblical conflicts – over the city of Jericho. They lived on further north, but because their territory was invaded many times in antiquity their ultimate fate has been a mystery – until now. Their DNA has now been found in the population of modern-day Lebanon. Many archaeologists have been fascinated by the Canaanites. They lived on the Mediterranean’s eastern coastal region several thousand years ago. They are credited with constructing the first alphabet. But paradoxically, they left few texts behind, which means much of what we know about the Canaanites comes from descriptions of them written by others – mostly their rivals including the Egyptians, Greeks and Israelites. The new account of the Canaanites comes from an impartial source: the ancient DNA from five skeletons unearthed from a Canaanite burial site in the Lebanese city of Sidon. The two males and three females date from the Bronze Age, 3700 years ago. Collectively, they yielded enough DNA for analysis even though the remains have been exposed for so long to the region’s forbidding temperatures, which normally destroy DNA. “We had a large sample of bones and tried the teeth, but got no DNA whatsoever,” says Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK. “The success was from the petrous bone in the skulls, near the ear, which contained well-preserved DNA.”

7-27-17 Ancient DNA offers clues to the Canaanites’ fate
Ancient DNA offers clues to the Canaanites’ fate
Modern Lebanese people descended from this ancient Levant group. An analysis of the complete genetic instruction books, or genomes, recovered from five Canaanite skeletons reveals how these ancient people fit into humankind’s family tree. DNA is setting the record straight on ancient Canaanites. For the first time, scientists have deciphered the complete genetic instruction manuals of Canaanites. By comparing five Canaanite genomes with those of other ancient and modern populations, the researchers identified the Canaanites’ ancestors and discovered their descendants, modern Lebanese people. The results, reported online July 27 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, give new insight into the origins and fate of a people whose story has largely been told through the secondhand accounts of its contemporaries. The Canaanites emerged in the Levant, a region east of the Mediterranean Sea, 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. This cultural group, which established extensive trade networks and colonies across the Mediterranean region, left behind few written records, perhaps because they wrote on papyrus rather than clay. So most knowledge of the Canaanites comes from ancient Egyptian, Hebrew and Greek documents.

7-27-17 DNA of long-dead cows read from pages of Medieval books
DNA of long-dead cows read from pages of Medieval books
Texts written in the Middle Ages are a rich source of information about the past – but the DNA in the animal skin pages has its own story to tell. You could call it reading behind the lines. When medieval scribes sat down to preserve the literature and records of their day, they often wrote on parchment – a paper-like material made from animal skins. What they didn’t know was that the parchment holds DNA that can provide information about medieval life – and might even hold clues on how to preserve the ancient documents more effectively. Seven years ago, Matthew Collins at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and his colleagues had the idea of applying state-of-the-art genetic analysis techniques to the animal skin pages of medieval documents. “We realised all these dead cows have a date written on them,” he says. “We thought, ‘This is crazy, why aren’t we exploiting this’.” Collins and researchers from the University of York, UK, and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland turned to the York Gospels, among other texts, to see what the DNA could show. The York Gospels are thought to have been written around the year AD 1000. In standard ancient DNA studies, geneticists physically extract material from old animal bones for analysis. But this approach is too invasive to apply to priceless manuscripts.

7-27-17 Clinic ‘turkey baster’ method may be worth trying before IVF
Clinic ‘turkey baster’ method may be worth trying before IVF
A medical fertility treatment that puts sperm directly into a woman’s uterus has fallen out of favour, but studies suggest it’s more effective than we thought. Putting sperm directly into a woman’s uterus is no longer popular as a fertility treatment, but new evidence suggests it’s more effective than we thought – as well as being a lot easier and cheaper than IVF. Infertility is nothing new, and people have been inventing ways to boost their chances of conceiving for centuries. One approach to tackling reduced male fertility, the “turkey baster” method of placing sperm into the vagina, has been around in some form since at least the 1400s. Improved versions of this procedure, aka intrauterine insemination (IUI), wash the sperm first, to lower the risk of infections, before using a thin tube to deliver the sperm. Sometimes, women are given drugs to increase the number of eggs they release, with the hope of further boosting the chances of success. But the technique has fallen out of favour in recent years, in part because studies have shown that a single round of IVF is more likely to result in pregnancy than IUI. The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends couples with unexplained infertility bypass IUI altogether after trying for a year or two, depending on age, the most cost-effective approach is to skip straight to IVF, the guidelines state. Now Cindy Farquhar of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and her team have found that IUI is much more likely to lead to pregnancy than we thought. The team compared three rounds of IUI paired with a drug that boosts ovulation against three months of trying to conceive naturally, in 201 couples who were trying to conceive.

7-27-17 Human embryo gene editing has taken place in US, claims report
Human embryo gene editing has taken place in US, claims report
A US team is said to have carried out the most extensive study of editing human embryos yet, but the full results have not yet been released. A fourth paper describing attempts to correct defective genes in human embryos using CRISPR is about to be published. A report in MIT Tech Review says the results are the most promising so far but the lack of detail means it is not possible to judge whether this really is the case. Several groups around the world are working on gene editing in human embryos, using the revolutionary CRISPR technique. Some want to do this to study embryonic development, with the ultimate aim of improving fertility treatments. Others are interested in its potential for correcting genetic diseases. To date, just three teams – all in China – have published results in scientific journals. The first two studies used defective embryos and got poor results. The third study, revealed by New Scientist in March, got more promising results but it was based on editing just six normal embryos. Now a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University is about to publish details of a bigger study based on editing “many tens” of embryos. In 2013, Mitalipov was the first to derive stem cells from human embryos created by cloning adult cells.

7-27-17 Why the latest advice on stopping antibiotics is long overdue
Why the latest advice on stopping antibiotics is long overdue
Research shows advice to “complete the course” when taking antibiotics is outdated and could actually be making drug-resistant bacteria worse. Last week, crippling pelvic pain landed me in hospital. A doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics lasting just three days. I couldn’t help worrying that it wasn’t long enough. What if my infection hadn’t cleared by then? What if some of the harmful bacteria survived the treatment, and my body incubated the deadly, drug-resistant superbugs we have all been warned about? Really, I had nothing to worry about: growing evidence suggests that short courses of antibiotics can be just as effective at killing bacteria as longer ones. And they don’t increase the risk of antibiotic resistance, at least for the common infections that most people receive antibiotics for. In fact, it is the longer courses that cause problems. In 2010, an analysis of 24 studies, which included thousands of patients with respiratory and urinary tract infections, found that people on longer courses of antibiotics were more likely to develop antibiotic-resistant infections. That’s because most of the drug-resistant infections we are worried about stem from “friendly” bacteria that normally live in peace on and in our bodies. When we take antibiotics, we wipe out friendly gut bacteria along with the harmful ones. This disruption to the ecosystem can allow once-friendly bacteria from elsewhere in the body to colonise, where they can turn hostile and cause problems. Because these species weren’t killed by the antibiotic, any infections they cause are resistant to it. And this is more likely to happen with a longer course of treatment.

7-27-17 Men’s sweet tooth may increase risk of anxiety and depression
Men’s sweet tooth may increase risk of anxiety and depression
Men who consume large amounts of sugar in cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks are 23 per cent more likely to develop depression or anxiety over a five-year period. Watch the sugar, boys. Men who consume high levels of sugar from sweet drinks and snacks have been found to be 23 per cent more likely to develop depression or anxiety. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked with a range of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and dementia. There also seems to be a link between sugar and depression and anxiety, but whether sugar contributes to these conditions, or if these disorders instead make people eat more sugar, has been unclear. To find out, Anika Knüppel at the University College London and her team studied data from over 8,000 adults in the UK who had regularly answered questionnaires about their health and lifestyles since the 1980s. The questionnaires included questions like “how often do you eat a piece of cake”, and the participants also completed mental health surveys and attended clinical appointments that assessed their weight and height. Analysing this dataset, and controlling for a range of factors like health and socio-economic status, the team found that, when men were ranked among the top third of the group for sugar consumption from items like fizzy drinks, cakes and sugary tea, they were 23 per cent more likely to experience a bout of depression or anxiety over the following five years. There was no sign that mood disorders themselves boosted sugar intake, and the pattern seen in the men was not seen in women.

7-27-17 Lectin-free is the new food fad that deserves to be skewered
Lectin-free is the new food fad that deserves to be skewered
With echoes of the gluten-free craze, lectins are being wrongly vilified with a glut of questionable health claims, says Anthony Warner. Just in case there was not enough fear and misinformation about food, the latest restrictive fad sent to cure us of all ills is the lectin-free diet. Lectins, a family of proteins found in many foods, have been described as “the new gluten”, and if that refers to them being wrongly demonised, it might not be far from the truth. A lot of their bad press stems from overblown claims in a recent book, The Plant Paradox, by US heart surgeon Steven Gundry. In it, he outlines his belief that lectins are toxins driving obesity and a host of other conditions. The resulting diet vilifies a long list of foods, including grains, legumes, pulses, beans, peas, corn, soy, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, courgettes and even quinoa, usually the darling of new-age health writers. The main focus of the book is weight management, and in this area Gundry might just be on to something. When speaking of the clients he treats in his exclusive California clinics, he notes that “the more supposedly healthy foods that I eliminated, the more their health improved”. If we substitute the words “their health improved” with “they lost weight”, then the apparent paradox is perhaps not so surprising. It is not hard to imagine that you will almost inevitably lose weight by cutting out staple foods after a doctor tells you they contain toxins that are tearing holes in your gut.

7-26-17 Stem cells in the brain’s hypothalamus help mice stay young
Stem cells in the brain’s hypothalamus help mice stay young
A cluster of brain stem cells fight ageing in mice. They may do this by releasing molecules of micro-RNA – a process that anti-ageing drugs may be able to mimic. YOUR brain may be to blame for your ageing body. A small cluster of stem cells in the brain seems to help mice stay young, and injecting extra stem cells helps them live longer. One day anti-ageing drugs might be able to replicate the effect in people. Ageing is a complicated process, involving DNA damage, chronic inflammation, and worn-out cells, but we don’t yet know which of these has the biggest impact on ageing. Dongsheng Cai at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York has been investigating the role of the brain in ageing, since it controls most of our bodily functions. His team previously found that the hypothalamus, which releases hormones that affect other organs, seems to affect how mice age. By interfering with a molecular pathway in the hypothalamus, the team extended the lifespan of mice by 20 per cent. Cai’s team wondered whether stem cells here might influence ageing. Although stem cells in the hypothalamus create new neurons throughout life, the team noticed that mice start losing them in middle age – about 10 or 11 months old. By the time mice are 2 years old – around 70 in human years – the cells are basically all gone, says Cai. Mice age faster if these stem cells are destroyed. “There was a decline in learning and memory, coordination, muscle mass, endurance and skin thickness,” says Cai. The mice died a few months earlier than untreated animals.

7-26-17 The fragility of you and what it says about consciousness
The fragility of you and what it says about consciousness
Some people see time, others feel like impostors. Their unusual brains have much to tell us about our sense of self, finds V.S. Ramachandran. The fragility of you and what it says about consciousness. IT’S the end of a long day of talks, and a gaggle of people are jostling around one of the final speakers. Everyone seems to have a question for V. S. Ramachandran, who is as close to a celebrity as a neuroscientist can get. Most want to know more about the curious brain conditions he has been discussing, but one woman has a more personal interest. Listening to his talk, she came to suspect that she has a very unusual brain. Ramachandran has built a career on studying people with strange brains, and working out what they can tell us about what it means to be human. Perhaps his most famous work is on phantom limb syndrome – the sensation some people have that their missing limb is still present – but he has also studied synaesthesia, autistic savants and bizarre conditions like Cotard syndrome, in which people believe they are dead. Today he has been talking about calendar synaesthesia, one of the most striking examples he has seen of how the body and brain interact to shape our minds. When most people think about what they plan to do in November, say, they have a hazy concept of the months ahead. But people with calendar synaesthesia can actually see a calendar in front of them, often in a strange formation – a hula hoop that touches them in the centre of their chest, for instance.

7-26-17 Awesome awe: The emotion that gives us superpowers
Awesome awe: The emotion that gives us superpowers
Awe is so powerful it alters your sense of self, connects you with humanity and boosts your mind and body. And there's a surprising way to get more of it. HAVE you ever been stopped in your tracks by a stunning view, or gobsmacked by the vastness of the night sky? Have you been transported by soaring music, a grand scientific theory or a charismatic person? If so, you will understand US novelist John Steinbeck’s response to California’s giant redwood trees, which can soar more than a hundred metres towards the sky. “[They] leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always,” he wrote. “From them comes silence and awe.” Philosophers and writers have long been fascinated by our response to the sublime, but until a few years ago, scientists had barely studied it. Now they are fast realising that Steinbeck was right about its profound effects. Feeling awestruck can dissolve our very sense of self, bringing a host of benefits from lowering stress and boosting creativity to making us nicer people. Yet in the modern world, the value of the word awesome has plummeted – almost anything can now acquire the epithet. At the same time, we risk losing touch with the most potent sources of awe. The good news is that there are ways to inject more of it into our everyday lives. You needn’t be religious. All you need is an open mind – although a willingness to try psychedelic drugs may help.

7-26-17 Donate your voice so Siri doesn’t just work for white men
Donate your voice so Siri doesn’t just work for white men
Voice assistants can struggle with accents outside their test base of white, male users. Mozilla wants samples to create systems that can handle diversity. Does Siri have trouble with your accent? A project is turning to crowdsourced voice donations to overcome this problem, and iron out some of the other inherent problems with voice recognition. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are trained on huge databases of recorded speech. But if those don’t contain enough samples of a particular accent or dialect, the voice assistants will struggle to understand people who speak that way. So Mozilla ­­– the foundation behind the Firefox web browser – is turning to crowdsourcing to create voice recognition systems that avoid these problems. Through Project Common Voice, which launched last month, Mozilla aims to collect 10,000 hours of spoken English from people with a wide range of accents. “Historically, most collections of speech and language tend to be more male and white and middle class,” says Rachael Tatman at the University of Washington. And while companies like Google and Amazon are getting better at balancing their data sets, particularly when it comes to gender, voice recognition systems still have a harder time understanding Americans who speak with certain accents, she says. The software tends to work better for accents that have traditionally been seen as more prestigious, says Tatman. And the accents and dialects that tend to be under-represented in training data sets are typically associated with groups of people who are already marginalised in US society. That’s why voice software sometimes has lower recognition rates for African Americans, she says.

7-26-17 Borrowed genes give mums the blues
Borrowed genes give mums the blues
‘Holy Grail’ of flower color achieved in chrysanthemums for the first time. Researchers in Japan have genetically engineered the first blue chrysanthemum. Mums are now a flower of a different color. Japanese researchers have added a hint of clear sky to the humble plant’s palette, genetically engineering the first-ever “true blue” chrysanthemum. “Obtaining blue-colored flowers is the Holy Grail for plant breeders,” says Mark Bridgen, a plant breeder at Cornell University. The results are “very exciting.” Compounds called delphinidin-based anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the natural blues in such flowers as pansies and larkspur. Mums lack those compounds. Instead, the flowers come in a variety of other colors, evoking fiery sunsets, new-fallen snow and all things chartreuse. In previous attempts to engineer a blue hue in chrysanthemums — and roses and carnations — researchers inserted the gene for a key enzyme that controls production of these compounds, causing them to accumulate. But the resulting blooms skewed more violet-purple than blue.

7-26-17 50 years ago, diabetic mice offered hope for understanding human disease
50 years ago, diabetic mice offered hope for understanding human disease
Diabetic mice with mutations in the leptin receptor gene grow much larger and fatter than mice that don’t have the mutations. These diabetic, or db/db, mice were first described 50 years ago and have been helping scientists study the disease ever since. [Millions of diabetics] could be indebted to a strain of diabetic mice being bred in Bar Harbor, Maine. In diabetes research, “this mouse is the best working model to date,” one of its discoverers, Dr. Katharine P. Hummel, says.… A satisfactory animal subject had eluded diabetes researchers, until the mouse was found. — Science News, August 12, 1967. Hummel’s diabetic mice are still used in research to mimic type 2 diabetes in humans, which is linked to obesity. In the mid-1990s, researchers found that the diabetic mice carry a mutation in the leptin receptor gene, which prevents the hormone leptin from signaling fullness and triggering other metabolic processes. In people, however, the disease is more complicated. More than 40 genetic variants are associated with susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. Unlike the mouse mutation, none of those variants guarantee a person will develop the disease.

7-26-17 Readers question hominid family tree
Readers question hominid family tree
In “Hominid roots may go back to Europe” (SN: 6/24/17, p. 9), Bruce Bower reported that the teeth of Graecopithecus, a chimp-sized primate that lived in southeastern Europe 7 million years ago, suggest it was a member of the human evolutionary family. “Is it appropriate to use the terms ‘hominid’ and ‘ape’ as if the two are mutually exclusive categories?” asked online reader Tim Cliffe. “The distinction being made is between our clade in particular and all other apes. It seems to me that ‘hominids’ should be described as a subset of apes, not a separate category,” he wrote. “Yes, hominids are apes,” Bower says. “The terminology gets pretty thick in evolutionary studies, so researchers (and journalists) use some shortcuts.” Fossils of many ancient apes dating to between 25 million and 5 million years ago have been found, but the interest in this case is in a key transition to a particular kind of ape that walked upright and displayed various skeletal traits similar to traits unique to the human evolutionary family. “That’s why one source in the story, Bernard Wood, wonders whether Graecopithecus was an apelike hominid or a hominid-like ape,” Bower says. “But it’s important to remember that hominids diverged from other, ancestral apes. So did chimps.” Science News defines “hominid” as a member of the human evolutionary family.

7-26-17 The scientific reasons you can 'sense' when someone is watching you
The scientific reasons you can 'sense' when someone is watching you
Creepy! Picture this: You're sitting on a nearly empty subway car at night, engrossed in your book or your Instagram feed or whatever you do to pass the time on your commute. You reach a stop, you hear the doors slide open and shut, and the train carries on its way. After a few minutes, your neck begins to stiffen and tense, and a tingling sensation begins to spread — and you can't explain how you know, but you just know that it's because of someone else's gaze. You look up and, sure enough, someone across the car is looking right at you. Your eyes meet briefly, then you look away, slightly spooked. You feel too uncomfortable to check again to see if the stranger is still staring, but your body tells you she is; your neck continues to tingle, as if her eyes are brushing it up and down. Most of us have experienced the feeling of being watched at some point, whether the gaze is unwanted (a creepy train stranger) or desired (an attractive new acquaintance at your friend's house party). The sensations accompanying this phenomenon can sometimes feel almost paranormal — it's as if you can physically feel the eyes of others boring into you, even without looking, or like you have a second pair of eyes on the back of your head. Obviously, though, you don't. Which kind of makes a person wonder: What makes us feel like we're being watched, even when we can't see the watcher? And why, when we have that strange feeling, are we so often right?

  1. Because your eyes pick up on more than you know.
  2. Because you can think your way into feeling.
  3. Because gaze is extremely important.
  4. Because you often wrongly assume that you're being looked at …
  5. … but that can actually be a good thing.

7-26-17 Oldest mass animal stranding revealed in Death Valley fossils
Oldest mass animal stranding revealed in Death Valley fossils
About 540 million years ago a group of jellyfish washed ashore, died and fossilised – preserving evidence of the earliest example of an animal mass death event. How apt. In Death Valley, a region extraordinarily hostile to animal life today lie fossils of the oldest mass death so far discovered. On a rocky surface covering about one square metre, and in loose rocks nearby that were once part of the surface, Aaron Sappenfield of the University of California, Riverside, and his colleagues found the remains of 13 jellyfish. The discovery suggests the marine animals behaved in a comparable way to their modern counterparts. But the fossils also hint that environmental conditions at the time were very different from today. About 540 million years ago, in the Cambrian period, Death Valley lay on the edge of an ancient continent, with sandy beaches along its margin. The jellyfish in the Cambrian seas seemed to have looked and behaved a lot like they do today. Sappenfield and his colleagues believe that the ancient jellyfish also lived near the shore, until tides or waves pushed them closer to the beach. When the tide receded the animals got stranded, just as modern jellyfish do. But jellyfish washing up on today’s beaches have a poor chance of becoming fossils. Most are quickly torn to pieces by scavengers or curious children.

7-26-17 Mysterious mega-swan once waddled through New Zealand
Mysterious mega-swan once waddled through New Zealand
A larger relative of Australia’s black swan thrived in New Zealand – until humans arrived and helped bring about its extinction. It’s the original All Black. New Zealand was once home to a hulking, semi-flightless black swan that died out after humans first arrived from Polynesia in the 13th Century. The existence of a prehistoric New Zealand swan has long been contentious. Legends from the Moriori people tell of the Pouwa – a large swan-like creature. But some palaeontologists have suggested this may refer to the Australian black swan (Cygnus atratus), which occasionally flies across the Tasman Sea. Now, Nicolas Rawlence at the University of Otago and his colleagues have used genetic techniques to confirm the existence of the mega-swan. The researchers compared DNA from 47 modern Australian black swans and 39 ancient swan fossils uncovered from archaeological sites around New Zealand. Many of the fossils came from the isolated Chatham Islands located 650 kilometres east of New Zealand’s mainland, home to the Moriori. The analysis suggests the mega-swan split from C. atratus about 1 to 2 million years ago. “We think Australian black swans flew to New Zealand at this time and then evolved into a separate species – the Pouwa,” Rawlence says.

7-26-17 Brain disease affects 99% of NFL players in study
Brain disease affects 99% of NFL players in study
A study of American football players' brains has found that 99% of professional NFL athletes tested had a disease associated with head injuries. The report published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied 202 deceased players - 111 of them from the NFL. All but one former National Football League player were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The study is the largest of its kind yet conducted, its authors say. (Webmaster's comment: Violence is bad for you, in sports as well as in life. Why is that so hard to understand?)

7-25-17 Most football players who donated their brains to science had traumatic injury
Most football players who donated their brains to science had traumatic injury
Brain autopsies reveal disease in 99 percent of pro players. A degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy turns up in athletes like football players who take many hits to the head. A majority of football players whose brains were donated for research suffered a degenerative brain disease during their lives, according to the largest sample of players ever studied. The finding provides more evidence that the repetitive injuries to the brain sustained while playing American football are associated with the disease, researchers say. Of 202 deceased former football players, 177 were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause a host of mood and behavioral issues as well as thinking and reasoning problems. Among 111 men who had played in the National Football League, 110 — a whopping 99 percent — had developed the disease, researchers report July 25 in JAMA. Three of 14 high school players also showed signs of the brain disease, as well as 48 of 53 college players. Researchers relied on brain autopsies of the players to make the diagnoses and interviewed family members and friends about the symptoms players had experienced.

7-25-17 Sperm count has fallen by nearly 60 per cent in richer countries
Sperm count has fallen by nearly 60 per cent in richer countries
An analysis of 185 studies has found a 59 per cent drop in the average amount of sperm produced by men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. An analysis of research into male fertility suggests that there has been a steep decline in sperm counts for men living in richer nations. The review pooled data from 185 different studies, and found a 59.3 per cent drop between 1973 and 2011 in the average amount of sperm produced by men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. No similar pattern was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, although fewer studies had been conducted in these countries. “Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp, ongoing drop in sperm count,” says Hagai Levine, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who worked on the analysis. “The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” says team-member Shanna Swan, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

7-25-17 Add penis bacteria to the list of HIV risk factors
Add penis bacteria to the list of HIV risk factors
Microbes that thrive in oxygen-poor places may lure virus’s prey: vulnerable immune cells. Bacteria such as Prevotella are anaerobes — they can survive without oxygen. An increase in anaerobic bacteria on the penis raises the risk of HIV infection, a new study suggests. Out-of-whack microbes in the vagina can raise HIV risk — and now there’s evidence that the makeup of the penis microbiome matters, too. The greater the number of anaerobic bacteria tucked under the foreskin, the more likely an uncircumcised man is to become infected with the virus, researchers report July 25 in mBio. “This mirrors what’s been seen in women, but it’s the first study of its kind in men,” says Deborah Anderson, a microbiologist and gynecologist at Boston University School of Medicine. The data come from heterosexual Ugandan men followed for two years as part of a larger study on circumcision. Researchers swabbed the men’s penises to collect bacteria samples at the beginning of the two-year study. Then they compared the penile bacterial composition of the 46 uncircumcised men who became infected with HIV over the course of the study with that of 136 uncircumcised men who didn’t.

7-25-17 See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands
See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands
We know very little about the Ediacaran organisms that lived on Earth before true animals, but scans are now revealing what they looked like on the inside. Were the Ediacarans animals or plants? Or neither? CT scans of a unique 3D fossil offers the first look inside one of these strange creatures from before the dawn of true animals. But the jury on their identity is still out. The Ediacarans were pleated soft-bodied life forms – some up to 2 metres tall – that lived between 580 and 540 million years ago. They disappeared when true animals evolved – probably because they were eaten to extinction. Our efforts to learn about them have been hampered because the creatures had soft bodies that didn’t tend to fossilise well. Most Ediacaran fossils are essentially masks that show only features of the outer surface – not what was going on inside. Now, CT scans of a pair of unusual three-dimensional fossils found in Namibia are telling us more about the mysterious organisms. The two fossils are from a single 10-centimetre-tall Ediacaran species called Rangea. It is a member of an Ediacaran group called the rangeomorphs that looked a bit like large petals. “This is the first look inside such a unique specimen of a rangeomorph,” says Alana Sharp of University College London, who led the team conducting the scans. “What has been made visible are internal structures like a central core.”

7-25-17 Time, not material goods, 'raises happiness'
Time, not material goods, 'raises happiness'
Using money to free-up time is linked to increased happiness, a study says. In an experiment, individuals reported greater happiness if they used £30 ($40) to save time - such as by paying for chores to be done - rather than spending the money on material goods. Psychologists say stress over lack of time causes lower well-being and contributes to anxiety and insomnia. Yet, they say even the very wealthy are often reluctant to pay people to do the jobs they dislike. "In a series of surveys we find that people who spend money to buy themselves more free time are happier - that is they have higher life satisfaction," said Dr Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Rising incomes in many countries has led to a new phenomenon. From Germany to the US, people report "time famine", where they get stressed over the daily demands on their time. Psychologists in the US, Canada and the Netherlands set out to test whether money can increase happiness levels by freeing up time. More than 6,000 adults in the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, including 800 millionaires, were asked questions about how much money they spent on buying time. The researchers found that fewer than a third of individuals spent money to buy themselves time each month. Those who did reported greater life satisfaction than the others.

7-25-17 How to read someone's mind by looking into their eyes
How to read someone's mind by looking into their eyes
The eyes are the windows to the soul. We humans learn this at a very young age. es play a prominent role in our daily social encounters and are sometimes metaphorically referred to as windows to our souls. There now is compelling evidence to support the notion that much information about another person's mind can be gleaned from his or her eyes. In one proof of concept, the Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET), developed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his group at Cambridge University in the U.K., has documented our ability to identify inner states from the eyes and the region surrounding the eyes. The extent of information that eyes communicate about other minds might be somewhat limited, yet evidence argues against the longheld view of philosophers in the skeptical tradition that the contents of other minds cannot be directly observed. Instead, human eyes form a bridge between self and other by providing direct access to another person's inner state. The phenomenon is unique to humans alone. Indeed, after comparison with nearly half of all primate species, the human eye has been shown to be morphologically and responsively unique. Humans not only show the greatest horizontal elongation of the eye outline and the largest amount of exposed tissue (called sclera) around the eyeball, but are also the only species with sclera that is white. When compared with our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees, we humans focus more steadily on the eye region when scanning faces. By 14 months of age, the human gaze follows eyes almost exclusively whereas other great apes rely more on head direction.

7-25-17 Lasers reactivate ‘lost’ memories in mice with Alzheimer’s
Lasers reactivate ‘lost’ memories in mice with Alzheimer’s
It was thought that Alzheimer’s completely erases memories, but a mouse experiment suggests the condition messes with our ability to recall them instead. A chance to remember? Forgotten memories have been reawakened in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that the condition may not actually destroy our memories, but instead impair our ability to recall them. It has long been assumed that Alzheimer’s disease completely erases memories. The condition involves clumps of proteins known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles accumulating in the brain, where they are thought to destroy the neurons that store our memories. But experiments by Christine Denny at Columbia University and her colleagues suggest that memories may not be wiped by Alzheimer’s disease, but instead become harder to access. What’s more, these memories can be reawakened by artificially activating the neurons they are stored in. The finding could be revolutionary, says Ralph Martins at Edith Cowan University in Australia. “It has the potential to lead to novel drug development to help with regaining memories,” he says.

7-25-17 There’s a long way to go in understanding the brain
There’s a long way to go in understanding the brain
Neuroscientists speculate on ways to plug gaps in current knowledge about neural circuitry. Mapping electrical signaling among the vast network of neurons is one key aspect of trying to understand how the brain works. Scientists pour a lot of brainpower into understanding how their experimental equipment works. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking you’ve made a great discovery because of some quirk in the apparatus you didn’t know about. Just the other day, a new paper published online suggested that the instruments used to detect gravitational waves exhibited such a quirk, tricking scientists into claiming the detection of waves that maybe weren’t really there. It appears that gravity wave fans can relax, though. A response to the challenge pretty much establishes that the new criticism doesn’t undermine the wave discoveries. Of course, you never know — supposedly well-established results sometimes do fade away. Often that’s because scientists have neglected to understand the most important part of the entire experimental apparatus — their own brains. It’s the brain, after all, that devises experiments and interprets their results. How the brain perceives, how it makes decisions and judgments, and how those judgments can go awry are at least as important to science as knowing the intricacies of nonbiotic experimental machinery. And as any brain scientist will tell you, there’s still a long way to go before understanding the brain will get crossed off science’s to-do list. But there has been progress. A recent special issue of the journal Neuron offers a convenient set of “perspective” papers exploring the current state of understanding of the brain’s inner workings. Those papers show that a lot is known. But at the same time they emphasize that there’s a lot we don’t know.

7-24-17 Our brains always plan one step ahead of our bodies when we walk
Our brains always plan one step ahead of our bodies when we walk
A brief glimpse of upcoming terrain one stride ahead of time enables your brain to make sure your next footfall hits the right spot. Keep your head up. Today, navigating the urban jungle can be challenging, with uneven sidewalks and errant kerbs presenting obstacles to easy walking. So why do we rarely trip up even though we hardly ever give walking our full attention? It seems that all we need is a brief glimpse of what’s coming next on the road in front of us, just one step ahead of time, to keep up upright. Humans have a unique kind of locomotion – we’re bipedal, meaning we move around on two legs rather than four. Scientists are still struggling to unravel the mystery behind our shift to two legs – for instance, some suggest it freed up our hands to carry food. Others point out that our human gait is much more energetically efficient. Our walking style exploits external forces like gravity and inertia to use as little muscular energy as possible so that we actually fall forward onto the lifted foot with each step. Jonathan Samir Matthis at the University of Texas at Austin wanted to know how we aim and control this forward motion – particularly since the way ahead is rarely level and obstacle-free. “We have to be much more careful about where we place our feet than we would if we had four legs on the ground,” he says. “Because if we do it wrong, there’s serious consequences like breaking your leg.” To explore further, his team asked 44 people, aged 18 to 22, to walk across a flat surface while a motion capture system kept track of their movement. The team told the volunteers to step on illuminated “targets” on the ground – but software made sure that these targets were visible only during particular stages of each volunteer’s walking cycle.

7-24-17 South African child 'virtually cured' of HIV
South African child 'virtually cured' of HIV
A nine-year-old infected with HIV at birth has spent most of their life without needing any treatment, say doctors in South Africa. The child, whose identity is being protected, was given a burst of treatment shortly after birth. They have since been off drugs for eight-and-a-half years without symptoms or signs of active virus. The family is said to be "really delighted". Most people need treatment every day to prevent HIV destroying the immune system and causing Aids. Understanding how the child is protected could lead to new drugs or a vaccine for stopping HIV. The child caught the infection from their mother around the time of birth in 2007. They had very high levels of HIV in the blood. Early antiretroviral therapy was not standard practice at the time, but was given to the child from nine weeks old as part of a clinical trial. Levels of the virus became undetectable, treatment was stopped after 40 weeks and unlike anybody else on the study - the virus has not returned. Early therapy which attacks the virus before it has a chance to fully establish itself has been implicated in child "cure" cases twice before.

7-24-17 Monthly injections could replace daily pills for people with HIV
Monthly injections could replace daily pills for people with HIV
A two-year trial has found that long-acting injections of antiretroviral therapy work just as well or better at controlling HIV than daily pills. Daily pills may become a thing of the past for people who have HIV. A long-acting injection has been found to work just as well or better than standard pill-based antiretroviral therapy (ART) at preventing the virus from bouncing back and becoming infectious again. At the end of a two-year trial of 286 people with HIV, 94 per cent of those who had injections of the long-acting therapy every eight weeks had the virus under control, defined as having less than 50 copies of the virus per millilitre of blood. A monthly form of the injection was effective in 87 per cent of those who had it, while standard ART pills worked for 84 per cent of those who took them. The results were unveiled today by Joseph Eron, of the University of North Carolina, at a conference of the International AIDS Society in Paris. “This is a big step forward,” says Mahesh Mahalingam of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. “It will help remove the challenge of taking tablets every day and significantly improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.”

7-22-17 Can sleeping apart help your relationship?
Can sleeping apart help your relationship?
Sometimes spending the night in the same bed is a bad thing. A few things that can wreck a good night's sleep? Caffeine, sure. Stress and anxiety, definitely. Being in a relationship? Well, yes, now that you mention it. Specifically, it's the bed-sharing that messes things up. Simply put, sharing a bed means waking up more. In one 2007 study, nearly half of participants reported that they'd been woken up by their partner's movements, noises, or activities. This presents an unfortunate predicament: You want to be able to sleep through the night, but you also want to keep on sleeping next to your partner. Ultimately, research suggests, most people end up choosing the latter, either because it's what's expected of couples or because they believe it's better for the relationship. In some cases, that can mean sharing a bed with someone who's aggressive or violent during sleep, says Carlos Schenck, a psychiatry professor at the University of Minnesota who's written extensively about sleep disturbances. In his work, he's frequently encountered people who want to continue sleeping next to their significant other, even when that means getting (inadvertently) elbowed or punched all night. Much of the time, he says, it's because they want to help their partners deal with their sleep disturbances. But this is one good intention that often backfires. Not getting enough sleep can easily turn someone into the worst version of themselves, and, by extension, make them a worse, less understanding partner: Sleep deprivation can take a toll on your sense of humor, your empathy, and your ability to make decisions, all of which can create additional relationship problems.

7-21-17 Your eardrums move in sync with your eyes but we don’t know why
Your eardrums move in sync with your eyes but we don’t know why
It turns out our eardrums seem to change position in coordination with our eye movements. This may help our brains link what we see and hear. See, hear. Our eardrums appear to move to shift our hearing in the same direction as our eyes are looking. Why this happens is unclear, but it may help us work out which objects we see are responsible for the sounds we can hear. Jennifer Groh at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and her team have been using microphones inserted into people’s ears to study how their eardrums change during saccades – the movement that occurs when we shift visual focus from one place to another. You won’t notice it, but our eyes go through several saccades a second to take in our surroundings. Examining 16 people, the team detected changes in ear canal pressure that were probably caused by middle-ear muscles tugging on the eardrum. These pressure changes indicate that when we look left, for example, the drum of our left ear gets pulled further into the ear and that of our right ear pushed out, before they both swing back and forth a few times. These changes to the eardrums began as early as 10 milliseconds before the eyes even started to move, and continued for a few tens of milliseconds after the eyes stopped. “We think that before actual eye movement occurs, the brain sends a signal to the ear to say ‘I have commanded the eyes to move 12 degrees to the right’,” says Groh. The eardrum movements that follow the change in focus may prepare our ears to hear sounds from a particular direction.

7-21-17 Baby salmon with ‘old’ DNA more likely to survive epic migration
Baby salmon with ‘old’ DNA more likely to survive epic migration
We usually associate short telomeres with ill health but young salmon with them seem to have a higher chance of coping with a time at sea. There’s something fishy going on. Juvenile Atlantic salmon with shorter telomeres – normally considered a sign of poor health – have a higher chance of surviving the epic migration from their home river to the sea and back again. Telomeres act as caps on the ends of chromosomes, preserving the DNA after cells divide. But the telomeres shorten with each division and eventually become so short the cells can’t divide any more. In humans, shortened telomeres are associated with cardiovascular diseases and cancer in adults, and are thought to reflect overall cell ageing and health. No wonder Darryl McLennan at the University of Glasgow, UK, and his colleagues were puzzled by their results. In the spring of 2013, McLennan’s team tagged over 1800 juvenile salmon, or smolts, in the Blackwater river in northern Scotland just before they migrated to sea. The team also took a small fin tissue sample from each fish to measure the telomeres. In the autumn of 2014 and 2015, when McLennan expected the salmon to return to the river to spawn, his team trapped the tagged fish and took a follow-up fin tissue sample to measure telomere length. Only 21 of the original salmon remained and the survivors were significantly more likely to have shorter telomeres than when they began their migration. “When we started this project we hypothesised the juvenile salmon with shorter telomeres would have a reduced lifespan and found the complete opposite,” he says.

7-21-17 Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants build towers with three simple rules
Fire ants use a simple set of rules to form a tower, with no leader needed, a new study reveals. When faced with rushing floodwaters, fire ants are known to build two types of structures. A quickly formed raft lets the insects float to safety. And once they find a branch or tree to hold on to, the ants might form a tower up to 30 ants high, with eggs, brood and queen tucked safely inside. Neither structure requires a set of plans or a foreman ant leading the construction, though. Instead, both structures form by three simple rules:

  1. If you have an ant or ants on top of you, don’t move.
  2. If you’re standing on top of ants, keep moving a short distance in any direction.
  3. If you find a space next to ants that aren’t moving, occupy that space and link up.

“When in water, these rules dictate [fire ants] to build rafts, and the same rules dictate them to build towers when they are around a stem [or] branch,” notes Sulisay Phonekeo of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She led the new study, published July 12 in Royal Society Open Science.

7-21-17 Drink coffee, live longer
Drink coffee, live longer
People who rely on a cup of joe to wake up or power through the day could be adding years to their lives. Two sweeping new studies reveal that a coffee habit could boost longevity by reducing the risk of death from heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease. “If you like to drink coffee, drink up,” researcher Veronica Setiawan of the University of Southern California tells ScienceDaily.com. “If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.” Setiawan’s team examined data on nearly 186,000 adults of various races and ethnicities. The results showed mortality risk dropped 12 percent for those who drank just one cup of coffee each day while two to three cups brought even better odds—18 percent. Another study analyzed the link between coffee and prolonged life span among more than 500,000 Europeans who were followed for about 16 years. Men who drank the most coffee had a 12 percent lower risk of early death. For women, the risk dropped 7 percent. Coffee contains a complex mixture of powerful antioxidants, but it’s unclear what accounts for the drink’s benefits. Apparently it’s not the caffeine—in both studies, researchers found decaf just as effective.

7-21-17 Poor sleep tied to Alzheimer’s
Poor sleep tied to Alzheimer’s
Adults with normal thinking and memory skills who have trouble sleeping may be at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows. Researchers asked 101 older people with genetic risk factors for the degenerative brain disease to complete a sleep questionnaire. Samples of participants’ spinal fluid revealed those reporting poor sleep quality had more biological markers of Alzheimer’s, including buildups and tangles of toxic proteins, such as beta--amyloid and tau, as well as brain-cell damage and inflammation, The New York Times reports. “Not everyone with sleep problems is destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” says study author Barbara Bendlin of the University of Wisconsin. “We’re looking at groups of people, and over the whole group we find the association of poor sleep with the markers of Alzheimer’s.” The precise link is unclear. Previous studies suggest the brain “cleans house” overnight, clearing out harmful toxins, and sleep loss could disrupt this protective process.

7-21-17 Baby-led weaning won’t necessarily ward off extra weight
Baby-led weaning won’t necessarily ward off extra weight
Babies who fed themselves gained similar amounts of weight as spoon-fed babies. Letting babies feed themselves may not prevent them from putting on extra weight. But it sure is fun to watch. When my younger daughter was around 6 months old, we gave her mashed up prune. She grimaced and shivered a little, appearing to be absolutely disgusted. But then she grunted and reached for more. Most babies are ready for solid food around 6 months of age, and feeding them can be fun. One of the more entertaining approaches does not involve a spoon. Called baby-led weaning, it involves allowing babies to feed themselves appropriate foods. Proponents of the approach say that babies become more skilled eaters when allowed to explore on their own. They’re in charge of getting food into their own mouths, gumming it and swallowing it down — all skills that require muscle coordination. When the right foods are provided (yes to soft steamed broccoli; no to whole grapes), babies who feed themselves are no more likely to choke than their spoon-fed peers.

7-21-17 Generosity breeds contentment
Generosity breeds contentment
By definition selflessness, like virtue, is its own reward. But new research reveals altruism offers some personal perks, as well. Even a mere pledge to help others can trigger changes in the brain that produce a warm glow of happiness and contentment, an international team of psychologists found. The researchers told 50 people they would be given $100 over the course of four weeks. Half were instructed to keep the money for themselves. The remaining subjects were asked to spend the money on other people and describe how they would use it. Next, the participants’ brains were scanned as they considered various giving scenarios, which pitted their own interests against recipients of their generosity. The brain images revealed that selfless acts of giving triggered increased activity and connectivity in the temporoparietal junction and the ventral striatum––regions associated with reward, pleasure, and happiness. Even small acts of generosity had significant effects. “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier,” University of Zurich researcher Philippe Tobler tells PsychCentral.com. “Just being a little more generous will suffice.”

7-20-17 Con artists took me for a ride. Here’s how to protect yourself
Con artists took me for a ride. Here’s how to protect yourself
As a psychologist who's peered into the minds of psychopathic cheats and fallen victim to con artists, here's what to look out for, says Marc Swogger. Record numbers of people are falling prey to fraudsters. Snake oil salesmen have adapted well to the 21st century; con artists abound. They still run scams in the street, but they also exploit cellphones and the internet to reach victims more readily. They are also drawn to online dating, where fraud has hit a high in the UK. MPs called this week for a ban on “catfishing”, the growing use of fake profiles, often to dupe those seeking romance out of money. While we get a lot of advice about how to avoid financial scammers online, less is said about how to handle an exchange with one in the office, in the marketplace or on the street. That’s partly because victims fail to report unethical behaviour and crime for fear of people thinking they are reckless or daft. Without their stories, we can’t learn how to avoid being victims ourselves. When a con artist is face-to-face with you, they don’t just speak; they create a disarming show that combines intense eye contact and fast-talking with dramatic facial expressions, rhythmic gestures and the charm of an easy smile. As a stranger on the street, they may disorient you by approaching in an overly sudden manner with unearned familiarity: “Hey there – you are going to love this!” In a job interview or on a date the con artist sprinkles in plenty of disarming flattery. They make vague references to assumed commonality, creating the enticing illusion that you are on the inside of something special: “Most people cannot see the potential, but I knew right away that you do.”

7-20-17 Cows produce powerful HIV antibodies
Cows produce powerful HIV antibodies
In a first, researchers elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against the virus in an animal. A special feature of bovine antibodies seems key to why cows in a new study were able to generate broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. An unlikely hero has emerged in the quest to fight HIV: the cow. In a first for any animal, including humans, four cows injected with a type of HIV protein rapidly produced powerful antibodies against the virus, researchers report. Learning how to induce similar antibodies in humans may be key to a successful HIV vaccine. The antibodies, called broadly neutralizing antibodies, can stop infection from a variety of HIV types. The cows generated these antibodies as soon as 42 days after immunization, the researchers report online July 20 in Nature. For the small percentage of people estimated to develop these antibodies after a natural infection, it can take several years. The work identifies “a new and much more efficient method to generate broadly active antibodies against HIV,” says immunologist Justin Bailey of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

7-20-17 Resistance to CRISPR gene drives may arise easily
Resistance to CRISPR gene drives may arise easily
Fruit fly experiments show hurdles remain before gene-editor can be used to control disease, pests. A new genetic technology called gene drives may be easily thwarted, experiments with fruit flies suggest. The red flies shown here inherited a gene drive carrying a red fluorescent protein. A genetic-engineering tool designed to spread through a population like wildfire — eradicating disease and even whole invasive species — might be more easily thwarted than thought. Resistance to the tools, called CRISPR gene drives, arose at high rates in experiments with Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies, researchers at Cornell University report July 20 in PLOS Genetics. Rates of resistance varied among strains of fruit flies collected around the world, from a low of about 4 percent in embryos from an Ithaca, N.Y., strain to a high of about 56 percent in Tasmanian fruit fly embryos. “At these rates, the constructs would not start spreading in the population,” says coauthor Philipp Messer, a population geneticist. “It might require quite a bit more work to get a gene drive that works at all.” Gene drives are basically genetic copy-and-paste machines. These self-perpetuating machines are inherited by more than 50 percent of offspring of an individual carrying a gene drive. Working perfectly, they could transmit to 100 percent of offspring.

7-20-17 Adderall might improve your test scores – but so could a placebo
Adderall might improve your test scores – but so could a placebo
Some students take ADHD drugs to improve their academic performance. A trial suggests Adderall can work in this way, but it’s largely due to the placebo effect. Students who take Adderall to improve their test scores may get a slight benefit, but it’s mainly a placebo effect. The drug Adderall is a combination of the stimulants amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But it’s growing in popularity as a study drug in the US, where around a third of college students are thought to try using prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. But does it work? Rachel Fargason, a psychiatrist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, says the idea of stimulants as cognitive enhancers didn’t tally with her experience of patients who were diagnosed incorrectly. “If they didn’t have ADHD, the stimulants generally didn’t help them cognitively,” she says. To investigate further, Fargason’s team set up a trial in 32 people between the ages of 19 and 30, none of whom had ADHD. Each participant took a batch of cognitive tests four times. On two of these occasions they were given 10 milligrams of Adderall, while they were given a placebo the other times. With each treatment, they were once told they were getting medication, and once told they were getting a placebo. Compared with placebo, Adderall produced a slight improvement on two tests, relating to memory and attention, out of 31 tests in total. But simply believing that they were taking a medication – regardless of whether they were or not – had a stronger effect, improving performance on six tests.

7-20-17 Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Why dogs are friendly - it's written in their genes
Being friendly is in dogs' nature and could be key to how they came to share our lives, say US scientists. Dogs evolved from wolves tens of thousands of years ago. During this time, certain genes that make dogs particularly gregarious have been selected for, according to research. This may give dogs their distinctive personalities, including a craving for human company. "Our finding of genetic variation in both dogs and wolves provides a possible insight into animal personality, and may even suggest similar genes may have roles in other domestic species (maybe cats even)," said Dr Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University. The researchers studied the behaviour of domestic dogs, and grey wolves living in captivity. They carried out a number of tests of the animals' skills at problem-solving and sociability. (Webmaster's comment: Friendliness genes are in some human beings too, but not in nearly enough of them. Case in point, hate groups in America!)

7-20-17 Australia human history 'rewritten by rock find'
Australia human history 'rewritten by rock find'
Archaeologists have found the first evidence to suggest that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years. The discovery indicates their arrival on the continent was up to 18,000 years earlier than previously thought. It was made after sophisticated artefacts were excavated from a rock shelter in the Northern Territory. Researchers unearthed what they say are the world's oldest stone axes and ochre crayons, thought to be used for art. The research, which has been peer-reviewed, was published in the journal Nature. It is based on findings at the Madjedbebe shelter, near Kakadu National Park. Australian Aborigines are believed to be the world's oldest continuous civilisation. However, there has been debate among scientists about when they arrived, with an estimate of between 47,000 and 60,000 years ago. They would have made sea journeys from the islands of South-East Asia at a time when water levels were much lower. The lead author of the new research, Associate Prof Chris Clarkson, from the University of Queensland, said: "We have managed to establish a new age for first occupation in Australia and pushed it back by about 18,000 years beyond what was the previous established age of about 47,000 years."

7-19-17 The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
The eyes have it: How spotting naive prey made fish walk on land
SEEN through the right geological lens, the bucolic countryside near Chirnside, a village in south-east Scotland, becomes a tropical swamp. The rocks divulge a picture of a sweltering and soggy landscape, tangled with all manner of tree ferns, horsetails and 30-metre-high clubmosses that look like giant scaly asparagus spears. Here, 350 million years ago, off the edge of a muddy bank, a pair of eyes poked above the water. They belonged to a newt-like creature with a broad head, a wide mouth full of needle-sharp teeth and a long tail. It also boasted four limbs, with which it shuffled awkwardly onto the bank. This amphibious vertebrate, nicknamed Tiny by its discoverers, might be the most important fossil you’ve never heard of. It lived through a time for which our records are sparse, but when one of the most significant transitions in life’s history was taking place. This was the era in which fish-like things hauled themselves out of the water for new life on land, setting the stage for the rise of amphibians, reptiles and mammals like us. Tiny isn’t the only recent discovery challenging our view of this transition. Where once we imagined that a few sturdy pioneers exchanged their fins for limbs, took a gulp of air and never looked back, now we see a haphazard process that relied as much on shifty, swelling eyes as the anatomical prototypes of limbs. (Webmaster's comment: Also see: These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers)

Blenny:  These fish are evolving right now to become land-dwellers

7-19-17 First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
First dogs may have been extremely sociable wolves
Wolves and dogs that are friendliest to people carry mutations in genes with links to sociability, backing the idea that this was key in dog domestication. The ancestral wolves that evolved into domestic dogs may have carried genetic mutations that made them socialise more readily with people. What’s more, the same genes cause excessive sociability in humans. It was already known that even if wolves have been raised with humans from birth, they never become as close to people or look at them as often as dogs tend to. Several years ago, Bridgett vonHoldt at Princeton University in New Jersey and her colleagues linked this “hypersociability” to a 28-gene stretch of the dog genome that includes canine versions of the genes responsible for Williams syndrome – a human disorder characterised by extreme sociability. However, they had no direct proof that these genes caused it. To find out whether they do, vonHoldt and her team tested the behaviour of 18 domestic dogs and 10 wolves, all of which had been raised identically with constant human contact. Each animal was scored for its hypersociability towards humans. As expected, the dogs scored higher than the wolves. The researchers then sequenced the key region of each animal’s genome in fine detail and searched for structural variations – deletions or insertions of genetic material – that seemed to match well with their social behaviour. They found four, including two in genes called GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. These genes are known to cause the hypersociability involved in Williams syndrome in humans, and GTF2I has also been shown to cause hypersociability in mice.

7-19-17 These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
These genes may be why dogs are so friendly
DNA differences among dogs and wolves hints at how canines came to live with humans. Dogs' friendliness to humans may be tied to tweaks in a few of the animal's genes. A new study examines how variations of these genes may have allowed for the domestication of dogs from wolves. DNA might reveal how dogs became man’s best friend. A new study shows that some of the same genes linked to the behavior of extremely social people can also make dogs friendlier. The result, published July 19 in Science Advances, suggests that dogs’ domestication may be the result of just a few genetic changes rather than hundreds or thousands of them. “It is great to see initial genetic evidence supporting the self-domestication hypothesis or ‘survival of the friendliest,’” says evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University, who studies how dogs think and learn. “This is another piece of the puzzle suggesting that humans did not create dogs intentionally, but instead wolves that were friendliest toward humans were at an evolutionary advantage as our two species began to interact.” Not much is known about the underlying genetics of how dogs became domesticated. In 2010, evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University and colleagues published a study comparing dogs’ and wolves’ DNA. The biggest genetic differences gave clues to why dogs and wolves don’t look the same. But major differences were also found in WBSCR17, a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans.

7-19-17 First Australians may have arrived much earlier than we thought
First Australians may have arrived much earlier than we thought
Stone axes and the remains of fireplaces found in northern Australia appear to date to 65,000 years ago, adding 15,000 years to Australia's human prehistory. HUMANS may have arrived in Australia 15,000 years earlier than we thought. Artefacts found in the north of the country suggest that the region was occupied 65,000 years ago – which raises all sorts of questions about how the country’s first inhabitants interacted with wildlife and what became of them. Until recently, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Australia came from 50,000-year-old stone artefacts found in a rock shelter in the country’s north. Now Chris Clarkson at the University of Queensland and his colleagues have found artefacts dating back 65,000 years in a different rock shelter – this one in Kakadu National Park in the far north of the country. The artefacts include fireplace remains, stone axes, grinding stones, ground plant matter and ground ochre – a type of red pigment commonly found in ancient rock art in northern Australia. Clarkson’s team calculated the age of the artefacts by dating charcoal and quartz grains buried in the same layer of sediment (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature22968). Alan Cooper at the University of Adelaide is perplexed by the discovery, given that nothing so ancient is found anywhere else in Australia. “We know these people were fast movers – they moved very quickly from Africa to Asia to Australia,” he says. “So if they did arrive in northern Australia 65,000 years ago, why did they then just sit down and wait 15,000 years before spreading to the rest of the country?”

7-19-17 Humans first settled in Australia as early as 65,000 years ago
Humans first settled in Australia as early as 65,000 years ago
Artifacts reveal a people skilled with stone tools, other crafts. Artifacts found at the ancient rock-shelter known as Madjedbebe in northern Australia provide new insights into the lives of the first Australians. Tools, paints and other artifacts excavated from an ancient rock-shelter in northern Australia are giving new glimpses into early life Down Under. The first humans may have arrived on the continent 65,000 years ago — 5,000 years earlier than previously thought — and they were sophisticated craftspeople, researchers report July 19 in Nature. Archaeologists unearthed three distinct layers of artifacts at Madjedbebe, Australia’s oldest known site of human habitation, during digs in 2012 and 2015. The oldest, deepest layer contained more than 10,000 relics of human handiwork. This cache included the world’s oldest polished ax heads, Australia’s oldest seed-grinding and pigment-processing tools, stone points that may have been spearheads, as well as hearths and other remnants of human activity. “When people think about our ancient ancestors, they either tend to have a view that our ancestors must have been primitive, less culturally diverse, or they take the view that our ancestors were probably extraordinarily culturally impressive,” says Peter Hiscock, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney who was not involved in the study. “This indicates the latter view. The moment people get to Australia, they’re doing all this really smart stuff.” They were probably building fires to light nighttime activities, grinding seeds for food and using ochre paints to decorate cave walls or their own bodies, Hiscock says.

7-19-17 Hot ice could have seeded life on Earth
Hot ice could have seeded life on Earth
JUST add salt to a new form of ice and we may have the recipe for the primordial soup. Such exotic “hot” ice could also have shaped the geology of our solar system. Ice VII has completely different properties from regular ice. It only forms under intense pressure, and is dense enough to sink in water. Outside of the lab it exists mostly in the deepest layers of Neptune and Uranus, and perhaps also on icy moons like Europa and Ganymede. Arianna Gleason at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Stanford University and her team used a laser to compress water between two sheets of quartz. Next, they placed the water next to a diamond, then fired the laser at the diamond. This recreated the effect of a collision between a comet and a large body like a planet and formed the ice (Physical Review Letters, doi.org/b9q9). “That diamond immediately turns into a plasma and that goes off like a rocket,” Gleason says. “It blows off this shock wave in the opposite direction.” Ice VII formed by this impact could have forever altered the chemistry and geology of moons and planets of the outer solar system, even though it only lasts for nanoseconds before reverting to less exotic ice or water. This form of ice may have changed the strength and composition of surface materials as they separated and created strata within ice crater layers. Shock waves induced by ice VII may also explain why some impact craters have several ridges. And that’s not all. If you factor in salts, a comet slamming into an icy body could create something lik the prebiotic soup that led to life on Earth — and that could exist on Europa, Titan or Enceladus. Unlike the panspermia scenarios, where a comet carries biotic material to a lifeless planet, it could instead be the catalyst that creates ice VII, which then helps a world explode with life.

7-19-17 Feeling lonely? You’re not on your own
Feeling lonely? You’re not on your own
Anyone can feel lonely, even when surrounded by friends, and loneliness is on the up. How can we curb its devastating effect on people's mental and physical health? IMAGINE you are a zookeeper and it’s your job to design an enclosure for humans. What single feature would best ensure the health and well-being of the animals in your care? Appropriate access to food and water? Shelter? The thought experiment has only one answer, according to social neuroscientist John Cacioppo who proposed it. The enclosure, above all else, must take into account our need for connection with other humans. We are an “obligatorily gregarious species”, in Cacioppo’s words. Yet if so, this is not how many of us live today. We are often far from our families, in homes where we are the sole occupant, socialising, working and shopping online. This can have a serious downside: a gnawing feeling of loneliness to which most of us can be prone, regardless of age or stage of life. We’re just beginning to understand what serious consequences that can have. Loneliness changes the brain, taking hold of our thoughts and behaviours in ways that are likely to make us feel even more isolated. But its effects are not just psychological; they are also physical. Left unchecked, loneliness can have a physiological impact as detrimental to longevity as smoking or obesity. “I’d always thought of loneliness as a nuisance, not one of the most toxic environmental conditions we can possibly encounter,” says Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the effect of the environment on our genes. If that sounds gloomy, the new insights also offer perspectives on how to tackle this notoriously intractable social phenomenon – and make each of us less lonely, too.

7-19-17 This robot grows like a plant
This robot grows like a plant
A new soft robot takes inspiration from natural growers. Robots are branching out. A new prototype soft robot takes inspiration from plants by growing to explore its environment. Vines and some fungi extend from their tips to explore their surroundings. Elliot Hawkes of the University of California in Santa Barbara and his colleagues designed a bot that works on similar principles. Its mechanical body sits inside a plastic tube reel that extends through pressurized inflation, a method that some invertebrates like peanut worms (Sipunculus nudus) also use to extend their appendages. The plastic tubing has two compartments, and inflating one side or the other changes the extension direction. A camera sensor at the tip alerts the bot when it’s about to run into something. In the lab, Hawkes and his colleagues programmed the robot to form 3-D structures such as a radio antenna, turn off a valve, navigate a maze, swim through glue, act as a fire extinguisher, squeeze through tight gaps, shimmy through fly paper and slither across a bed of nails. The soft bot can extend up to 72 meters, and unlike plants, it can grow at a speed of 10 meters per second, the team reports July 19 in Science Robotics. The design could serve as a model for building robots that can traverse constrained environments.

7-19-17 Bioinspired tube robot can sneak round corners and turn on taps
Bioinspired tube robot can sneak round corners and turn on taps
It sounds nightmarish, but a robot that "grows" like a plant at speeds of up to 35 kilometres per hour could be surprisingly useful. If a garden hose were possessed by a demon, it might look like this. A new tube robot can unravel at 35 kilometres per hour to a maximum length of 72 metres, changing direction at whim. It even has the ability to turn handles. Unlike most robots and animals, plants move by growing. It’s a slow process, but a growing plant can easily get round corners or into tight spaces. The new robot does the same thing, only faster. It has up to three chambers that, when filled with air, force extra material to unfold. By controlling the airflow in each chamber, the robot can change direction. So what is plant-bot good for? It can extend into three dimensions up structures like radio antennas, lift heavy objects such as a 75-kilogram crate, and also operate valves. In future, tougher versions of the robot could be used to help with search and rescue missions. “We hope to automate manufacture of the robots so that dozens of them could cost almost nothing,” says Elliot Wright Hawkes, who developed the robot at Stanford University in California. He also sees potential for using it in certain types of surgery, including to guide medical catheters. Indeed, he says, “we’re hoping to move to in vivo testing in the near future.”

7-19-17 Jump-Starting the Brain's Memory: Dementia patients may benefit from stimulation
Promising new research suggests electrical brain stimulation--via an implanted "pacemaker" in the brain--may be a key to improving memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania have shown for the first time that stimulating the brain when it's foggy can significantly boost memory function. Conversely, stimulating the brain when it's sharp can impair thinking skills. "Our study shows the timing of stimulation is crucial," said psychologist Michael Kahana, who led the research team. The findings, reported in the journal Current Biology, were hailed as a breakthrough. Researchers tested 150 patients receiving epilepsy treatment at nine medical centers around the country. Patients were asked to study and recall lists of words while receiving brain stimulation from electrodes already implanted in their brain as part of their care. The team hopes to start clinical trials with memory-impaired populations, which would potentially include those with Alzheimer's disease. "We would need to develop a fully implantable brain stimulator, capable of rapidly decoding brain states and using those states to guide when and where to apply stimulation," Kahana said. While conceding this sounds fanciful, he believes it's possible to achieve the goal in the next few years. We're all in a race against time here--every one of us," Kahana said.

7-19-17 Alzheimer's Deaths Soar
A new federal study shows a startling rise in deaths caused by Alzheimer's disease in recent decades. While researchers don't yet know why it is happening, they recommend providing more support to caregivers who are helping patients to cope with the neurological disease's ravages. The data, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that between 1999 and 2014 the number of deaths from Alzheimer's climbed from 16.5 per 100,000 Americans to 25.4 per 100,000. The data was adjusted to account for an aging population. Alzheimer's was listed as the cause of nearly 94,000 deaths in 2014, according to the CDC. But other sources estimate that Alzheimer's is a leading factor in as many as 500,000 deaths a year, many attributed to pneumonia, heart disease and other causes. CDC epidemiologist Christopher A. Taylor, the study's lead author, said the rise may be linked in part to increased awareness of Alzheimer's disease among doctors, making it more likely that the disease is correctly diagnosed as the cause of death. The higher Alzheimer's toll may also be related to increases in life expectancy, Taylor said.

7-19-17 Blood test detects Alzheimer’s plaques building up in brain
Blood test detects Alzheimer’s plaques building up in brain
Sticky plaques start forming in the brain 15 years before Alzheimer’s disease develops. A simple blood test may identify those at risk years in advance. A blood test can detect whether plaques of beta-amyloid are building up in a person’s brain – a sign that they may develop Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have sticky clumps of beta-amyloid in their brains, although the part these plaques play in the condition is unclear. Until now, the only way to monitor plaque build-up in a person’s brain has been through expensive PET-scans, or by performing an invasive spinal tap procedure. Now a team has developed a simple blood test that may make it possible for family doctors to screen for Alzheimer’s risk during health check-ups. “This kind of test could be used to screen many thousands of patients to identify those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and to start treatments before memory loss and brain damage,” says Randall Bateman, of Washington University in St Louis, who unveiled the test at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London today. Bateman says the test could be used in a similar way to annual checks on cholesterol. The test works by measuring the relative amounts of different forms of beta-amyloid, a sign of whether plaques are likely to be building in a person’s brain. They developed the test by comparing ratios of beta-amyloid types in 41 people’s blood with PET scans showing how much beta-amyloid had aggregated in their brains.

7-19-17 How did dogs become our best friends? New evidence
How did dogs become our best friends? New evidence
Dogs most probably evolved from wolves at a single location about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, a study suggests. Previously, it had been thought that dogs were tamed from two populations of wolves living thousands of miles apart. Researchers studied DNA from three dogs found at archaeological sites in Germany and Ireland that were between 4,700 and 7,000 years old. The ancient canines share ancestry with modern European dogs. By looking at the rates of change to the DNA from the oldest specimen, scientists were able to place the timing of the domestication of dogs to between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. Krishna Veeramah of Stony Brook University in New York is a researcher on the study. He said the process of dog domestication began when a population of wolves moved to the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps to scavenge for leftovers. ''Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this," he explained. "While the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.''

7-18-17 Common drugs help reverse signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in rats
Common drugs help reverse signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in rats
Heavy drinking hampers an enzyme important for brain development, study finds. Babies exposed to alcohol in utero can have lifelong learning and developmental problems. A new study in rats suggests one way alcohol might hurt a developing fetus, moving closer to a treatment. A common blood sugar medication or an extra dose of a thyroid hormone can reverse signs of cognitive damage in rats exposed in utero to alcohol. Both affect an enzyme that controls memory-related genes in the hippocampus, researchers report July 18 in Molecular Psychiatry. That insight might someday help scientists find an effective human treatment for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause lifelong problems with concentration, learning and memory. “At this moment, there’s really no pharmaceutical therapy,” says R. Thomas Zoeller, a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders may affect up to 5 percent of U.S. kids, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists don’t know exactly why alcohol has such a strong effect on developing brains. But the lower thyroid hormone levels commonly induced by alcohol exposure might be one explanation, suggests study coauthor Eva Redei, a psychiatrist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

7-18-17 The death of smoking: how tobacco will be eradicated for good
The death of smoking: how tobacco will be eradicated for good
Smoking rates have been slowly falling in Western countries for decades. Soon, the habit could be wiped out, without even having to ban it. MOST of us in the West are an unhealthy lot: we eat junk food, drink too much alcohol, exercise too little and generally ignore medical advice designed to help us live longer. But there is one thing we are listening to our doctors about. Smoking rates have been slowly falling, year on year, in most Western countries for decades. This month saw the 10-year anniversary of England’s ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces – including bars and restaurants – a change that once would have seemed inconceivable. The UK government is due to announce new tobacco control strategies for the next few years. The decline of smoking is emboldening some public health officials to plan for what is sometimes called the tobacco endgame – stubbing out smoking completely. But several strategies to reach this goal have potential pitfalls, and some could even be counterproductive. So is a smoke-free future ever going to happen, and what could we do to bring it about? Smoking was a minority pursuit until the late 19th century and the arrival of one of the deadliest inventions in history: industrially produced cigarettes. Their popularity soared during the first world war, as soldiers were given cigarettes with their rations. Celebrities, athletes and even doctors endorsed the habit. At its peak in the mid-20th century, around half of all adults in the UK and the US smoked.

7-18-17 The strange science of the 'stress nap'
The strange science of the 'stress nap'
I just started calling them my 'fear naps.'" A few years ago, I had a Twitter conversation with someone who, like me, was afraid of flying. Unlike me, however, this person's response to flight anxiety was to fall asleep before takeoff, and stay asleep until the plane had landed. As someone who's spent many flights desperately clutching the armrests as if the force of my grip alone might keep the airplane aloft, this didn't make much sense to me. (Nor did it seem particularly fair.) Why, if you were afraid for your life, or even just fairly stressed about it, would your body respond by falling asleep? As far as I knew, human beings react to the threat of danger with one of two possible responses: fight or flight. One or the other might be a smarter choice, depending on the situation at hand, but both options make sense as reflexive means of survival. But how could falling asleep help anyone? According to Dr. Curtis Reisinger, clinical psychologist at Zucker Hillside Hospital, the classic "fight or flight" binary is oversimplified; there are actually a number of evolutionarily adaptive ways human beings might respond to stress or danger. "There's also a freeze response — sort of like a deer in the headlights, they get stunned," says Reisinger. "A similar one is flooding, where the person gets flooded with emotions. And then the other one is what's called the fawn response, another F." (I ask if this all-F naming convention was done on purpose, but he doesn't know. He just realized it right now, too.) The fawn response refers to the inclination to cooperate or submit oneself to one's threat or captor. And then there's the final F: fatigue.

7-18-17 Prenatal test spots genetic anomalies linked to miscarriage
Prenatal test spots genetic anomalies linked to miscarriage
A fetal test for Down’s syndrome has been extended to chromosomal anomalies across the whole genome. The test may help prepare parents for difficult pregnancies. A blood test can scan a fetus’s entire genome for chromosomal abnormalities at 10 weeks of pregnancy. An extension of the non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) for Down’s syndrome, the test could identify pregnancies that should be monitored more closely as they are at a higher risk of miscarriage or complications. Chromosomal abnormalities occur in around 1 in 1000 births. The most common are Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome and Patau syndrome, which are caused by carrying an extra copy of a chromosome – chromosome 21 in the case of Down’s. These can all be detected by the form of NIPT currently offered by private clinics in the UK, US and Australia. This test is also set to be offered by the UK National Health Service from next year. NIPT works by detecting DNA fragments from the fetus that are circulating in the maternal blood. Now several teams around the world have developed whole-genome versions of the test that can detect rarer chromosomal anomalies, such as mosaic trisomy 22. This occurs when some cells have an extra copy of chromosome 22, and can cause learning difficulties, short stature and webbing of the neck. Between 2000 and 2006, just over 1000 babies were born with rare chromosomal abnormalities in Europe and the UK. However, only about 50 per cent of fetuses with rare chromosomal abnormalities survive to birth, because the genetic anomalies can cause miscarriage.

7-18-17 Rising life expectancy in England has slowed since recession
Rising life expectancy in England has slowed since recession
The pace of improving life expectancies has halved in England since the global recession began. Austerity cuts to healthcare and social care may be to blame. In Hong Kong and Japan, life expectancy just keeps rising. But in England it has begun to stall, according to an analysis of the rates and causes of death. Between 2000 and 2009, women in England were on average living a year longer every five years, and men every three-and-a-half years. But the latest data show that since 2010, these one-year increases are now occurring every 10 years for women, and six for men. “Since 2010, the rate of increase in life expectancy has about halved,” says Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, who led the analysis. Marmot says the reasons for this slow-down are not clear, but notes that they have coincided with austerity programmes that have seen heavy cuts in health and social care spending in England. Prior to 2010, spending on the UK National Health Service rose around 3.8 per cent each year, but this has since fallen to 1.1 per cent a year, he says. “There’s this stagnation, and we want to know how it varies with the extent of deprivation,” says Marmot.(Webmaster's comment: The same drop in the rate of life expectancy increase is also true in the united States, but we don't want to talk about that do we. Here in the United States we are medically hanging on by our fingernails.)

7-18-17 People domesticated dogs just once, ancient DNA study suggests
People domesticated dogs just once, ancient DNA study suggests
Like pups worrying over a bone, debate over when — and how many times — dogs were tamed continues. DNA extracted from an inner ear bone of a dog skull is helping researchers decipher dogs’ origin story. The skull is about 4,700 years old and was found at Cherry Tree Cave in Germany. People and pooches may have struck up a lasting friendship after just one try, a new genetic study suggests. New data from ancient dogs indicates that dogs became distinct from wolves between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, researchers report July 18 in Nature Communications. Dogs then formed genetically distinct eastern and western groups 17,000 to 24,000 years ago, the researchers calculate. That timing and other genetic data point to dogs being domesticated just once. That idea contrasts with a hypothesis put forward last year that dogs were domesticated separately in Europe and East Asia, with the Asian dogs eventually replacing the European mutts (SN: 7/9/16, p. 15). Scientists agree that dogs stem from wolves, but where, when and how many times dogs were domesticated — passing down tameness and other traits over generations — has been rethought many times in the last few years (SN: 7/8/17, p. 20).

7-18-17 Tanzanian volcano blast could destroy ancient hominin footprints
Tanzanian volcano blast could destroy ancient hominin footprints
If Ol Doinyo Lengai erupts, iconic prints at Laetoli and another set at Engare Sero are at risk. IT’S only a matter of time. Scientists studying tremors in east Africa’s rift valley say an eruption from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano is imminent. This could threaten ancient hominin footprints preserved at two sites. The volcano lies 120 kilometres north-west of Arusha in Tanzania. It has erupted three times in the last century, propelling debris and ash high into the air. Increased earthquakes, ash emissions and a widening crack on the west side of the volcano all suggest it will erupt soon, says D. Sarah Stamps at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The volcano is a mere 14.5 kilometres from Engare Sero, where anthropologists recently unearthed over 400 hominin footprints dating back 19,000 years. A large volcanic debris flow could, in theory, swamp the area. The iconic site of Laetoli, with 3.7-million-year-old hominin footprints, is 113 kilometres away and perhaps safer from harm. Marco Cherin at the University of Perugia, Italy, is concerned for the Engare Sero prints. “They are amazing for their extraordinary state of preservation,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Amazingly the Creationists still insist that the footprints can not be over 10,000 years old. Why? Because the bible tells them so! The need to be "obedient" to a supreme boss "God" overrules all common sense and knowledge that science has proven.)

7-18-17 Mighty T. rex 'walked rather than sprinted'
Mighty T. rex 'walked rather than sprinted'
The size and weight of a T. rex would have prevented it from moving faster than 20km/h (12mph), research suggests. University of Manchester scientists used a new computer simulation to assess the speed of the massive biped. Based on T. rex's muscles alone, the model came up with a maximum speed of 30km/h, but this dropped to 20km/h when skeletal strength was assessed too. Had it moved from a brisk walk to a sprint, the dinosaur's legs would have snapped under the weight of its body. "T. rex is everyone's favourite dinosaur, and palaeontologists have been arguing for years about how fast it could run because this would tell us something about its hunting style and the way it caught its prey,'' said Prof William Sellers. ''This project used a highly realistic computer simulation to predict how T. rex moved, and it shows that running would have been impossible because its skeleton just isn't strong enough. ''That means that T. rex was actually quite slow and therefore not a pursuit predator.'' (Webmaster's comment: The species didn't survive for 5 million years being the slowest predator! Evolution doesn't work that way.)

7-17-17 Scientists marvel at creatures' 'precise' body clock
Scientists marvel at creatures' 'precise' body clock
A microscopic sea animal has been found to have a "genetic clock" which produces a specific 24-hour rhythm regulating its behaviour. Calanus finmarchicus rise from the deep at night to feed on single-celled algae, before sinking again at dawn. A study of Calanus finmarchicus found in Argyll's Loch Etive has shown sunlight is not needed as a trigger for this behaviour. Scientists said they have been "amazed" by how precise the genetic clock is. The study adds to research of Arctic zooplankton, which live through long months of polar winters. (Webmaster's comment: If a precise body clock is needed for survival or breeding evolution will provide it.)

7-17-17 At least 75 per cent of our DNA really is useless junk after all
At least 75 per cent of our DNA really is useless junk after all
After decades of arguing whether junk DNA exists, a study has calculated that without it we’d all have to reproduce in huge numbers to escape harmful mutations. You’re far from a perfect product. The code that makes us is at least 75 per cent rubbish, according to a study that suggests most of our DNA really is junk after all. After 20 years of biologists arguing that most of the human genome must have some kind of function, the study calculated that in fact the vast majority of our DNA has to be useless. It came to this conclusion by calculating that, because of the way evolution works, we’d each have to have a million children, and almost all of them would need to die, if most of our DNA had a purpose. But we each have just a few children on average, and our genetic health is mostly fine. The study therefore concludes that most of our DNA really must be junk – a suggestion that contradicts controversial claims to the contrary from a group of prominent genomics researchers in 2012. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution never goes back and fixes itself, it just bandaids over what already exists. Read: The Accidental Mind)

7-15-17 The scientific secret to building good habits and sticking with them
The scientific secret to building good habits and sticking with them
Want to achieve your goals? Follow this simple advice. Building good habits can be hard. Real hard. Nearly half of dieters give up within a week. 40 percent of dieters quit within one week and more than 50 percent end up weighing more than they did before they started their diets. So what really helps? Does anybody have some answers that could make lasting changes three times easier to achieve? Actually, yes. Dr. Sean Young is a medical school professor at UCLA who studies behavior change and he's helped people build good eating, sleeping, and exercising habits. He sums up his work in the new book Stick with It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life-for Good. Summing up, here's how to build good habits:

  1. Small steps beat big dreams: Doing the minimum consistently beats endless overthinking.
  2. Call for backup: You get more done when you have role models, cheerleaders and people to nag you.
  3. Ask, "why is it important?": Do it because of money, relationships, or health and it's more likely to actually get done.
  4. Make it easy: If you sleep in your gym clothes with your sneakers next to the bed, you're more likely to wake up and go to the gym.
  5. Act before you think: Change your behavior to change your mind. Don't try and change your mind to change your behavior.
  6. Reward yourself: Do the trick and you get a treat. It works for Fido and it will work for you.
  7. Build a routine: Making it a part of your day leads to repetition, and that will rewire your brain for the better.

7-14-17 How a napping subway commuter's brain knows when it's their stop
How a napping subway commuter's brain knows when it's their stop
Perhaps you've seen them, those mysterious people who can fall asleep on the bus or the train and then, somehow, rouse themselves exactly at their stop. Perhaps you're one of them. It's as if the subway napper's brain can sense exactly where and when it is in time and space, rousing the sleeper so she can exit at the right time. How is this possible? While there's little research about this apparent superpower, a few doctors were game to offer their insights about it. Science of Us spoke to Dr. Marc I. Leavey, a primary-care specialist based in Lutherville, Maryland, and Dr. Ronald Chervin, a neurologist and director of Michigan Medicine's Sleep Disorders Center, to hear possible reasons why some people are able to wake up at exactly the right stop:

  • Because your body's internal clock is synced up to that particular stop.
  • Because you're still hearing the announcements of the stops, even while you sleep.
  • Because you're actually waking up more than you think you are.
  • Still, not everybody can manage the subway nap without missing their stop …
  • … but you can teach yourself.

(Webmaster's comment: The unconscious mind rules. It works in the background all the time, whether we are awake or asleep. It guides our behavior to make us survive and breed. We can consciously harness it, or ignore it and become a stimulus-response mechanism. Using our conscious mind we can choose the right thing, or just rape and pillage according to unconscious desire. But we have to say no to our unconscious desires trying to drive us and make what we do a conscious decision of our conscious mind. We have to THINK!)

7-14-17 GM moth trial gets a green light from USDA
GM moth trial gets a green light from USDA
Diamondback moths with a lethal gene could help control crop pest. In their caterpillar phase, diamondback moths can wreak havoc on a cabbage patch. A newly approved field trial aims to test whether a GM strain could reduce their damage. Cabbage-chomping moths genetically modified to be real lady-killers may soon take flight in upstate New York. On July 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture OK’d a small open-air trial of GM diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella), which the agency says do not pose a threat to human or environmental health. These male moths carry a gene that kills female offspring before they mature. Having fewer females available for mating cuts overall moth numbers, so releasing modified male moths in crop fields would theoretically nip an outbreak and reduce insecticide use. Originally from Europe, diamondback moths have quite the rap sheet: They’re invasive, insecticide-resistant crop pests. The caterpillar form munches through cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and other Brassica plant species across the Americas, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. (Webmaster's comment: Let's hope that the gene doesn't jump ship to another insect species. They say that isn't possible, but they also used to say human beings never breed with Neanderthals but they did, and we all carry Neanderthal genes.)

7-14-17 Water bears will survive the end of the world as we know it
Water bears will survive the end of the world as we know it
Only one calamity could kill tardigrades — and chances of that happening are slim. They may look like microscopic caterpillars, but don’t let their quaint appearance fool you — water bears are no joke. These creatures will probably soldier on long after humans are gone. Water bears may be Earth’s last animal standing. These tough little buggers, also known as tardigrades, could keep calm and carry on until the sun boils Earth’s oceans away billions of years from now, according to a new study that examined water bears’ resistance to various astronomical disasters. This finding, published July 14 in Scientific Reports, suggests that complex life can be extremely difficult to destroy, which bodes well for anyone hoping Earthlings have cosmic company. Most previous studies of apocalyptic astronomical events — like asteroid impacts, neighboring stars going supernova or insanely energetic explosions called gamma-ray bursts — focused on their threat to humankind. But researchers wanted to know what it would take to annihilate one of the world’s most resilient creatures, so they turned to tardigrades. The tardigrade is basically the poster child for extremophiles. These hardy, microscopic critters are up for anything. Decades without food or water? No problem. Temperatures plummeting to –272° Celsius or skyrocketing to 150°? Bring it on. Even the crushing pressure of deep seas, the vacuum of outer space and exposure to extreme radiation don’t bother water bears.

7-14-17 Smart people live longer
Smart people live longer
People with high IQs enjoy many advantages in life, and new research suggests greater longevity is one of them. A team at the University of Edinburgh looked at health data for over 75,000 people born in Scotland in 1936, all of whom took standardized intelligence tests at age 11. The researchers found that over the 68-year study period, ending in 2015, those with higher IQ scores were likely to live longer than their peers. Greater intelligence was linked with a 28 percent lower risk of death from lung disease, a 25 percent drop in the risk for heart disease, and a 24 percent lower risk for stroke. The kids with higher IQs were also less likely to die from injuries, digestive disease, dementia, or smoking-related cancers—regardless of their sex or socioeconomic status. The researchers speculate that people with higher IQs are more likely to take care of their health, leading them to exercise more, smoke less, and seek out medical attention when they need it. “We don’t know yet why intelligence from childhood and longevity are related, and we are keeping an open mind,” researcher Ian Deary tells The New York Times. “Lifestyles, education, deprivation, and genetics may all play a part.”

7-14-17 Using viruses to kill super-bacteria
Using viruses to kill super-bacteria
In the intensifying fight against superbugs, researchers are turning to “phage therapy”—a century-old medical technique that predates antibiotics by 25 years. During World War I, microbiologists discovered the existence of viruses that essentially infect and destroy bacteria. While early experiments showed that these “bacteriophages” could be used to treat infections, they were quickly superseded by antibiotics in the 1940s. With the recent rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, however, scientists are giving phage therapy another look. Bacteriophages are ubiquitous—found everywhere from sewage to the human gut—and every type of bacteria is thought to be susceptible to at least one of them. The challenge is finding the right phage-bacteria combination. The process currently involves covering the target bacteria with different viruses, monitoring which parts of the bacteria die, and then cultivating the relevant phage. That currently takes five to 10 days, which would be too long to save many patients—but scientists believe it can be streamlined. The Food and Drug Administration has granted doctors permission to use phage therapy in at least four life-threatening infections. “We desperately need something to treat infections resistant to antibiotics,” bacteriophage expert Carl Merril tells The Washington Post. “We are turning back to these viruses, but with new knowledge and new technology.”

7-14-17 150-year-old zombie plants revived after excavating ghost ponds
150-year-old zombie plants revived after excavating ghost ponds
Plant species from ghost ponds that were buried alive when agricultural land expanded can survive for hundreds of years. Scientists are rising the dead. Well, almost. Plants discovered in “ghost ponds” are being revived after lurking underground as dormant seeds for up to 150 years. These so-called ghost ponds are formed when agricultural land expansion means that existing ponds are filled in, and literally buried alive, says Emily Alderton, at University College London (UCL), who led the study. To expand a field, farmers commonly remove hedgerows then use the uprooted plants and soil to fill up any ponds. This happened at the site Alderton’s team studied in Norfolk, UK. “Small ponds were not drained, but were filled in while they were still wet. We think this is likely to have contributed to the survival of the seeds buried within the historic pond sediments,” she says. These buried ponds can often be seen as a ghostly mark on the landscape – a damp depression, change in soil colour, or patch of poor crop cover, where the ground never quite dries out, says Alderton. “We also suspected that ghost was the right word as it hints at some form of life still hanging on and this is exactly what we have,” says co-author Carl Sayer, director of the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group. “The species that lived in the past pond are still alive, dormant and waiting!”

7-14-17 Copper in Ötzi the Iceman’s ax came from surprisingly far away
Copper in Ötzi the Iceman’s ax came from surprisingly far away
Analysis hints that long-distance trade network connected present-day central and northern Italy. Copper for Ötzi the Iceman’s ax, or possibly even the finished blade, came from what’s now central Italy, an unexpectedly long way from the ancient man’s home region in northern Italy. Ötzi the Iceman’s copper ax was imported. The mummy’s frozen body and assorted belongings were found in 1991 poking out of an Alpine glacier at Italy’s northern border with Austria. But Ötzi’s ax originated about 500 kilometers to the south in what is now central Italy’s Southern Tuscany region, say geoscientist Gilberto Artioli of the University of Padua in Italy and colleagues. It’s unclear whether Ötzi acquired the Tuscan copper as raw material or as a finished blade, the investigators report July 5 in PLOS ONE. While mostly copper, the blade contains small concentrations of lead, arsenic, silver and more than a dozen other chemical elements. Researchers previously suspected the copper came from known ore deposits 100 kilometers or less from the site of the Iceman’s demise. But comparing the mix of different forms of lead, or isotopes, in the ax with that in copper ore from present-day deposits across much of Europe indicated that the ancient man’s blade came from Southern Tuscany. Other chemical components identified in the copper implement also point to a Southern Tuscan origin.

7-13-17 Brain activity helps build an alpha male
Brain activity helps build an alpha male
Experiments with dueling mice locate a brain region that helps them jump the pecking order. Male mice competing over resources will establish a social pecking order. oosting the activity of certain brain cells can help a mouse climb the social ladder. Nerve cells in a region called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex appear to control whether male mice are dominant or submissive to other males, researchers report in the July 14 Science. The finding adds to previous evidence that this brain region is involved in social interactions in mammals. Like men flexing muscles or flaunting sports cars to win status, male mice compete to establish a social pecking order. When every mouse knows his place, there can be less social conflict in the long run, says James Curley, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at Austin who wasn’t part of the study.

7-13-17 A type of bacteria might speed up the growth of colon cancer
A type of bacteria might speed up the growth of colon cancer
More than 70 per cent of colon tumours may contain Streptococcus gallolyticus gallolyticus, a bacterium that accelerates tumour growth when fed to mice. Most colon cancers may be caused by infections with bacteria that are normally found in cows. For decades we have known that Streptococcus gallolyticus gallolyticus (SGG) is sometimes found in colon tumours, but now the microbes have been found to directly cause tumour growth in mice. Cancer arises when cells have mutations in their DNA that allow them to start quickly proliferating. Sometimes a particular cause is strongly suspected – such as cigarette smoke in the case of lung cancer, or human papillomavirus for cervical cancer. But often there is no clear cause, and tumour-causing mutations can happen randomly. Colon cancer, which is the third most common cancer in the UK, has previously been linked with dietary risk factors, such as eating a lot of red or processed meat, or not enough fibre. But researchers have wondered if SGG, which can be found in some colon tumour samples, might also play a role. To investigate, Yi Xu of Texas A&M Health Science Center and her team fed the bacteria to mice that were pre-disposed to develop colon tumours. Those who were fed SGG developed around twice the volume of tumours as those given a different microbe for comparison. The team also found that human colon cancer cells in a dish multiplied faster when SGG bacteria were present too. “Somehow it can stimulate pathways that are important in cell proliferation,” says Xu.

7-13-17 These bacteria may egg on colon cancer
These bacteria may egg on colon cancer
Streptococcus gallolyticus spurred tumor growth in lab dishes and in mice. An intestinal bacterium called Streptococcus gallolyticus has previously been linked to colon cancer. Now researchers are getting clues about how the bacterium promotes tumor growth. A bad bacterium may make colon cancer worse. Streptococcus gallolyticus spurred growth of some colon cancer cells in lab dishes and in mice, researchers report July 13 in PLOS Pathogens. S. gallolyticus stimulates a biochemical chain reaction that scientists already knew is involved in the development of colon cancer, the researchers discovered. Bacteria had to be in direct contact with tumor cells to speed growth, but exactly how the bacteria do that isn’t yet known. Further investigation could help researchers find ways to block the microbe’s action, leading to better treatments for colorectal cancer, says microbiologist Yi Xu of Texas A&M University Health Science Center in Houston.

7-13-17 Gif and image written into the DNA of bacteria
Gif and image written into the DNA of bacteria
An image and short film has been encoded in DNA, using the units of inheritance as a medium for storing information. Using a genome editing tool known as Crispr, US scientists inserted a gif - five frames of a horse galloping - into the DNA of bacteria. Then the team sequenced the bacterial DNA to retrieve the gif and the image, verifying that the microbes had indeed incorporated the data as intended. The results appear in Nature journal. For their experiments, the team from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used an image of a human hand and five frames of the horse Annie G captured in the late 19th Century by the British photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. In order to insert this information into the genomes of bacteria, the researchers transferred the image and the movie onto nucleotides (building blocks of DNA), producing a code that related to the individual pixels of each image. The researchers then employed the Crispr platform, in which two proteins are used to insert genetic code into the DNA of target cells - in this case, those of E.coli bacteria. For the gif, sequences were delivered frame-by-frame over five days to the bacterial cells. The data were spread across the genomes of multiple bacteria, rather than just one, explained co-author Seth Shipman, from Harvard University in Massachusetts. "The information is not contained in a single cell, so each individual cell may only see certain bits or pieces of the movie. So what we had to do was reconstruct the whole movie from the different pieces," Dr Shipman told the BBC.

7-12-17 CRISPR adds storing movies to its feats of molecular biology
CRISPR adds storing movies to its feats of molecular biology
A flipbook of pictures shot by photographer Eadweard Muybridge form the basis of an animated image stored in bacterial DNA with a little help from the gene-editing tool CRISPR. Short film is alive and well. Using the current trendy gene-editing system CRISPR, a team from Harvard University has encoded images and a short movie into the DNA of living bacteria. The work is part of a larger effort to use DNA to store data — from audio recordings and poetry to entire books on synthetic biology. Last year, Seth Shipman and his colleagues at Harvard threw CRISPR into the mix when they used the editing system to record molecular data in the DNA of Escherichia coli. Now, the team is upping its game with images of a human hand and a short movie, a GIF of a galloping horse from iconic turn-of-the-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s Human and Animal Locomotion. In the code, the nucleotide bases that form DNA correspond to black-and-white pixel values. The video was encoded frame by frame. Once the team synthesized the DNA, they used CRISPR and two associated Cas proteins (Cas 1 and 2) to slip the data into the genetic blueprint of E. coli colonies. (Webmaster's comment: You could store a picture of yourself and family in your DNA and pass it on to future generations. Incredible!)

7-13-17 Experiences or stuff, what’s the best buy for a happiness boost?
Experiences or stuff, what’s the best buy for a happiness boost?
A decade of research that says buying experiences makes you happier than gaining possessions is being questioned. Is stuff king again, wonders James Wallman. Ah, the joys of (social) science. You’ve been saying something for years, as publicly as possible, and then new research comes along that suggests you might have been wrong all along. A few years back, I gave up a stable job and bet the proverbial farm on writing a book about what I believe is one of the most important social trends of our era: the move from materialism to experientialism. Instead of looking for pleasure, identity and status in material things, we’re increasingly seeking them in experiences instead. One of the principal reasons behind this trend and my belief that it’ll take off is the fact that if you spend your money on experiences rather than things you’re more likely to be happy. This new truth, that experiences cause more happiness than material goods, was discovered in 2003 by psychologists Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado Boulder and Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University, New York. The same relationship has been found in numerous studies since – at least seven by my count. Those findings have been informed by both small-scale experiments and nationally representative surveys. Eight studies by reputable scientists with the same conclusion? That’s enough for me to believe a thing. But now a few recent studies are questioning this. (Webmaster's comment: It would seem this depends on the values of the members of the society. In a materialistic culture like the United States I would expect material possesions to produce more happiness even if those possesions are meaningless.)

7-12-17 Smart but dumb: probing the mysteries of brainless intelligence
Smart but dumb: probing the mysteries of brainless intelligence
Understanding how things like slime moulds and plants can learn without a brain or even any neurons could help us fight diseases and make smarter machines. SNAILS, jellyfish and starfish have taught us that you don’t need a brain to learn. These seemingly simple creatures are capable learners, despite being completely brainless. Perhaps this is no great surprise. After all, it’s not as if they lack nerve cells. Strictly speaking, it’s neurons that enable learning – theirs are simply spread out, rather than being packed into centralised bundles. But what if you take away the neurons? Most life forms on Earth lack neurons, and yet they frequently manage to behave in complex ways. Previously, we have chalked this up to innate responses refined over generations, but it is beginning to look as if some of these humble non-neural organisms can actually learn. While that’s left some scientists scratching their heads, others are busy investigating how this ability could offer new approaches to fighting diseases and designing intelligent machines. Take a slime mould. It certainly doesn’t look smart. This unusual creature, which is not a plant, animal or fungus, often resembles a glob of lemon curd that has fallen on the floor. Really, this manifestation is just one stage in the slime mould’s life, formed when many single cells, each with their own distinct DNA, mingle and fuse. The resulting yellow blob can grow to a few square metres, and is just one enormous cell containing thousands of nuclei. “Slime moulds aren’t just capable of learning, they can teach each other too”

7-12-17 Battle lines are being drawn on the best way for babies to sleep
Battle lines are being drawn on the best way for babies to sleep
Paediatricians say sharing a bed with your baby is dangerous, but anthropologists say it is natural and beneficial. Who's right? FOR decades, new parents have been warned against sharing a bed with their babies. While snuggling up with your newborn may seem like the most natural thing in the world, prevailing medical advice says this increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), sometimes called cot death. Instead, doctors say your little ones should sleep in a separate crib in your bedroom. On the other side of the argument are anthropologists and proponents of “attachment parenting”, who believe that infant-parent separation is unnatural and at odds with our evolutionary history. They favour not just room-sharing but bed-sharing – putting them in direct conflict with paediatric advice. This debate was recently reignited by a study suggesting that room-sharing for up to nine months reduces a baby’s sleep, which in theory could have future health consequences. So what’s a sleep-deprived parent to do? Our ancestors slept in direct contact with their young in order to protect them, just as other primates do today, says Helen Ball at Durham University, UK. “Babies respond to close contact – their breathing, blood oxygen and heart rate are on a more even keel.” In Asia and Africa, most babies still share their parents’ beds (see map). But in the West, bed-sharing fell during the industrial revolution as increased wealth let people afford separate rooms and value was placed on teaching early independence.

7-12-17 The evolutionary reason why your teeth are crooked
The evolutionary reason why your teeth are crooked
We hold in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. We rarely consider just how amazing our teeth are. They break food without themselves being broken, up to millions of times over the course of a lifetime; and they do it built from the very same raw materials as the foods they are breaking. Nature is truly an inspired engineer. impacted wisdom teeth? Are your lower front teeth crooked or out of line? Do your uppers jut out over your lowers? Nearly all of us have to say "yes" to at least one of these questions, unless we've had dental work. It's as if our teeth are too big to fit properly in our jaws, and there isn't enough room in the back or front for them all. It just doesn't make sense that such an otherwise well-designed system would be so ill-fitting. Other animals tend to have perfectly aligned teeth. Our distant hominin ancestors did too; and so do the few remaining peoples today who live a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle. I am a dental anthropologist at the University of Arkansas, and I work with the Hadza foragers of Africa's great rift valley in Tanzania. The first thing you notice when you look into a Hadza mouth is that they've got a lot of teeth. Most have 20 back teeth, whereas the rest of us tend to have 16 erupted and working. Hadza also typically have a tip-to-tip bite between the upper and lower front teeth; and the edges of their lowers align to form a perfect, flawless arch. In other words, the sizes of Hadza teeth and jaws match perfectly. The same goes for our fossil forebears and for our nearest living relatives, the monkeys and apes.

7-12-17 Hairs use chemical signals to tell each other when to grow
Hairs use chemical signals to tell each other when to grow
Hair follicles all over the body use the same chemical language to coordinate their growth, a finding that may lead to treatments for hair loss and baldness. Hairs all over the body use the same two chemical signaling pathways to communicate with each other – a finding that might help us better understand baldness. Hair doesn’t constantly grow. Instead, each hair follicle goes through a cycle of growing, dying and resting. Previous research has found that two chemical signaling pathways called Wnt and BMP play a role in regulating when the hairs on the backs of mice grow. Now Maksim Plikus at the University of California, Irvine, and his team have used mathematical modelling to see if WNT-BMP signaling might play a role across the whole body. They found that waves of Wnt and BMP signaling can accurately explain the growth cycles of all the hairs on a mouse. This suggests that hairs all over the body use the same chemical language to coordinate each others’ growth. Waves of Wnt signaling spreading from hair to hair activate follicle growth, followed by waves of BMP signaling that shut down the stem cells in these follicles, halting growth. “Think of it like in track and field when people run and pass the baton,” says Plikus. “One runner is an active hair follicle and is passing off an activating signal to another hair follicle.”

7-12-17 Sleeping less in old age may be adaptation to survive in wild
Sleeping less in old age may be adaptation to survive in wild
The ‘poorly-sleeping grandparent’ hypothesis backed with new evidence from Tanzania’s Hadza people, links our sleep patterns to having night sentinels. Many dangers stalk the bushlands of Tanzania while members of the Hadza people sleep, yet no one keeps watch. There is no need because it seems that natural variation in sleep means there’s rarely a moment when someone isn’t alert enough to raise the alarm. That’s the conclusion of a study that sheds new light on why teenagers sleep late while grandparents are often up at the crack of dawn. Fifty years ago, psychologist Frederick Snyder proposed that animals who live in groups stay vigilant during sleep, by having some stay awake while others rest. However, no one had tested this sentinel hypothesis in humans until now. One way of maintaining this constant vigilance might be by the evolution of different chronotypes – individual differences in when we tend to sleep. This changes as we age, with teenagers shifting towards later bedtimes, and older people towards earlier bedtimes. Would such variability be enough to keep a community safe at night?

7-12-17 Lark or night owl? Blame your ancestors
Lark or night owl? Blame your ancestors
Our ancestors could be to blame for the wide variety of human sleeping habits, from larks to night owls. Staggered sleeping patterns would have been an advantage in the distant past, when we lived in groups and needed someone to look out for wild beasts, say researchers. Anthropologists monitored sleep in the Hadza people of Tanzania who still live a hunter-gatherer existence. Over 20 days and nights, someone was awake for almost all of the time. "Out of some 200 hours for the entire study, for only 18 minutes were they actually all sleeping synchronously," said lead researcher Dr David Samson of the University of Toronto, Canada. "The median was eight individual adults who were alert at any given time throughout the night - so that's 40% of the entire adult population of these camps. "So, it was pretty astounding how asynchronous the sleep was in this group." Past research has shown that about 40% -70% of a person's circadian rhythm, or body clock, is genetic. The rest is influenced by environment and, interestingly, age. When factors such as nursing status, temperature, wind, humidity and other factors that affect sleep were taken into account, age was one of the drivers of the variation in sleep types, said Dr Samson, the lead researcher on the study. "When you are younger, you're much more owlish, so you're much more inclined to have your peak activity later in the day than to be up earlier in the morning," he explained. "When you're older, you're much more larkish."

7-12-17 Video stored in live bacterial genome using CRISPR gene editing
Video stored in live bacterial genome using CRISPR gene editing
Cutting and pasting information into living DNA could theoretically safeguard complex records through a nuclear apocalypse. Life is an open book and we’re writing in it. A team at Harvard University has used the CRISPR genome-editing tool to encode video into live bacteria – demonstrating for the first time that we can turn microbes into librarians that can pass records on to their descendants – and perhaps to ours. The technique could even let us create populations of cells that keep their own event logs, making records as biological processes like disease or brain development happen. DNA is one of the best media for storing data we know of. Researchers have already crammed large amounts of information from books to digital images into tiny amounts of biological material. In theory, a gram of single-stranded DNA can encode 455 exabytes, or roughly 100 billion DVDs. Most previous DNA storage work has used artificial DNA: digital information is translated into a DNA sequence that is then synthesized. However, using CRISPR lets you cut and paste the digital information directly into the DNA of a live organism, in this case a large population of E. coli.

7-12-17 Genetically engineered salmon is coming to America
Genetically engineered salmon is coming to America
On a hill above the cold waters around Prince Edward Island, technicians painstakingly create fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs that include growth-enhancing DNA from two other fish species. The eggs will be shipped to tanks in the high rainforest of Panama, where they will produce fish that mature far more quickly than normal farmed salmon. More than 20 years after first seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, AquaBounty Technologies of Maynard, Massachusetts, plans to bring these "AquAdvantage" fish to the U.S. and Canadian markets next year. And in the small town of Albany, Indiana, workers will soon begin converting a land-based aquaculture facility to produce about 1,300 U.S. tons of these salmon annually, in the first U.S. facility to generate GE animals for human consumption. The company also plans to open a second aquaculture facility at Prince Edward Island — if it can rise above its latest round of legal battles and persuade grocery stores and restaurants to snap up the genetically engineered fish. Before the FDA cleared the salmon for consumption in 2015, in its first approval of GE animal protein as human food, it received 1.8 million messages opposing these fish. Perhaps more substantively, many outside researchers remain concerned about AquaBounty's plans. (Webmaster's comment: If it's as poor tasting as the farm raised salmon is compared to wild caught salmon then I want none of it!)

7-11-17 Measles 'tragedy' kills 35 across Europe
Measles 'tragedy' kills 35 across Europe
Thirty-five people have died in the past year from measles outbreaks across Europe, the World Health Organization has warned. It described the deaths - which can be prevented with vaccination - as an "unacceptable tragedy". A six-year-old boy in Italy was the latest to die from the infection. More than 3,300 measles cases have been recorded in the country. The most fatalities - 31 - have been in Romania. But there have also been deaths in Germany and Portugal since June 2016. Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, said: "Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy. "We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared. "I urge all endemic countries to take urgent measures to stop transmission of measles within their borders, and all countries that have already achieved this to keep up their guard and sustain high immunisation coverage." Measles is highly contagious, but vaccinating 95% of the population should prevent it spreading. (Webmaster's comment: Not vaccinating your children can be death sentence for them, and turn your child into a carrier of death for other children.)

7-11-17 First vaccine shows gonorrhoea protection
First vaccine shows gonorrhoea protection
A vaccine has for the first time been shown to protect against the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea, scientists in New Zealand say. There are fears gonorrhoea is becoming untreatable as antibiotics fail. The World Health Organization sees developing a vaccine as vital in stopping the global spread of "super-gonorrhoea". The study of 15,000 young people, published in the Lancet, showed infections were cut by about a third. About 78 million people pick up the sexually transmitted infection each year, and it can cause infertility. But the body does not build up resistance no matter how many times someone is infected. The vaccine, originally developed to stop an outbreak of meningitis B, was given to about a million adolescents in New Zealand between 2004 and 2006. Researchers at the University of Auckland analysed data from sexual health clinics and found gonorrhoea cases had fallen 31% in those vaccinated. The bacterium that causes meningitis, Neisseria meningitidis, is a very close relative of the species that causes gonorrhoea - Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It appears the Men B jab was giving "cross-protection" against gonorrhoea. Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, one of the researchers, said: "This is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea. At the moment, the mechanism behind this immune response is unknown, but our findings could inform future vaccine development." Protection seemed to last about two years.

7-10-17 The fight against gonorrhea gets a potential new weapon: a vaccine
The fight against gonorrhea gets a potential new weapon: a vaccine
Shot that curbs meningitis also appears to reduce infections of the sexually transmitted disease. Gonorrhea culprit Neisseria gonorrhoeae (left, in false color) is genetically similar to bacteria that can cause meningitis, Neisseria meningitidis (right, in false color). That close relationship might explain why a vaccine that curbed meningitis in New Zealand also seemed to reduce gonorrhea infections. A vaccine against meningitis has an unexpected side effect: It appears to target gonorrhea, too. If confirmed, the results represent the first instance of a vaccine reducing gonorrhea infections. After receiving a vaccine aimed at a type of meningitis, people were less likely to contract gonorrhea, scientists report online June 10 in the Lancet. That’s a big deal because worldwide each year, an estimated 78 million people contract gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause pelvic inflammation, infertility and throat infections. Gonorrhea’s bacterial culprit, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has developed resistance to many antibiotics, making treatment much more difficult. Some strains of gonorrhea can now resist all known antibiotics, the Word Health Organization announced July 7. “We are in desperate need for new therapies,” says Christine Johnston, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Attempts to make a gonorrhea vaccine have failed so far. The new results are “the first to show that vaccination against gonorrhea could be possible,” Johnston says.

7-10-17 Meningitis B vaccines may fight the rise of super-gonorrhoea
Meningitis B vaccines may fight the rise of super-gonorrhoea
Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea has spread worldwide. Now there’s hope that existing vaccines for meningitis could control gonorrhoea before it becomes unbeatable. A vaccine for meningitis B may stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant super-gonorrhoea. We desperately need a vaccine for the sexually transmitted infection. Last week, the World Health Organization reported that 81 per cent of the 77 countries that have looked for antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea found strains resistant to azithromycin, the main antibiotic used to fight the disease. Two-thirds of these countries had strains that were resistant to one of two “last resort” antibiotics, cefixime or ceftriaxone. Some cases resist all three of these drugs, and are effectively incurable. This means that even people who are treated for the infection can continue to harbour and spread the bacteria. According to the WHO, only three new drugs to combat gonorrhoea are being tested in people. Even if these work, bacteria could evolve to evade them. A vaccine “will ultimately be the only sustainable way to achieve control” of gonorrhoea, the agency warns. But so far, experimental vaccines have all failed. Remarkably, an existing licensed vaccine may do the trick – a finding David Fisman at the University of Toronto, Canada, describes as “incredible news”.

7-10-17 Just one night of poor sleep can boost Alzheimer’s proteins
Just one night of poor sleep can boost Alzheimer’s proteins
Amyloid-beta levels rose in healthy adults with interrupted slow-wave Zs. Slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep, may keep the brain from accumulating proteins that can lead to Alzheimer’s. How well, not how much, people sleep may affect Alzheimer’s disease risk. Healthy adults built up Alzheimer’s-associated proteins in their cerebral spinal fluid when prevented from getting slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep, researchers report July 10 in Brain. Just one night of deep-sleep disruption was enough to increase the amount of amyloid-beta, a protein that clumps into brain cell?killing plaques in people with Alzheimer’s. People in the study who slept poorly for a week also had more of a protein called tau in their spinal fluid than they did when well rested. Tau snarls itself into tangles inside brain cells of people with the disease. These findings support a growing body of evidence that lack of Zs is linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, “this suggests that there’s something special about deep, slow-wave sleep,” says Kristine Yaffe, a neurologist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the study.

7-10-17 Sunflowers work together to avoid overcrowding and soak up rays
Sunflowers work together to avoid overcrowding and soak up rays
In very dense fields, sunflowers self-organise into an alternating-tilt pattern that maximises exposure to sunlight. These plants swing both ways, you might say. Sunflowers growing densely in a field adopt a zigzag pattern, with neighbours leaning in opposite directions to grab as much light as possible. The strategy – which other plants might be using as well, without anyone noticing – may someday give us a way to boost crop yields. The alternate leaning is not easy to discern, because leaves mask the pattern. But when Antonio Hall, a crop eco-physiologist at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, happened to visit an unusually dense field of sunflowers at the end of the growing season – after the leaves had fallen – he noticed it. Follow-up experiments by Hall’s team revealed that the pattern starts early in growth, when one “pioneer” plant leans about 10 degrees from the vertical to escape a neighbour’s shade. The plants on either side of the pioneer sense the change to their own light and lean in the opposite direction to escape the pioneer’s shade, and the alternation cascades outwards. “Each pioneer plant creates a wave,” says Hall. Yields of sunflower seeds were 25 to 50 per cent higher in the leaning plants than in ones wired to remain upright, suggesting that the tilt allows them to make better use of available light. Hall’s team also compared several sunflower varieties and found they differed in their tendency to lean, suggesting that the trait has a genetic basis.

7-10-17 Fossil sheds light on bird evolution after asteroid strike
Fossil sheds light on bird evolution after asteroid strike
The fossil of a tiny bird that lived 62 million years ago confirms that birds evolved very rapidly after the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs. The sparrow-sized tree-dweller lived ''just a geological blink of an eye" after the mass extinction. Bird fossils from that time period are very rare. Analysis suggests the ancestors of most modern birds, from owls to woodpeckers, had taken to the wing within four million years of the asteroid strike. Like mammals, the birds that survived the extinction were able to expand and diversify to become one of the most successful animal groups on Earth. Analysis of the fossil and its relationship to other members of the bird family tree suggests as many as 10 major bird groups had appeared within four million years of the extinction. Dr Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, said Tsidiiyazhi abini was a very special little bird for several reasons. ''It is very old, very small, and had zany little feet,'' he explained. ''The age is between 62.2 and 62.5 million years, just a geological blink of the eye after the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.''

7-10-17 Drinking sugary beverages in pregnancy linked to kids’ later weight gain
Drinking sugary beverages in pregnancy linked to kids’ later weight gain
Study is latest to look at impact of mom’s diet on children’s health. Elementary school age kids may be better off weightwise if moms avoid sugary drinks during pregnancy, a new study finds. An expectant mom might want to think twice about quenching her thirst with soda. The more sugary beverages a mom drank during mid-pregnancy, the heavier her kids were in elementary school compared with kids whose mothers consumed less of the drinks, a new study finds. At age 8, boys and girls weighed approximately 0.25 kilograms more — about half a pound — with each serving mom added per day while pregnant, researchers report online July 10 in Pediatrics. “What happens in early development really has a long-term impact,” says Meghan Azad, an epidemiologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, who was not involved in the study. A fetus’s metabolism develops in response to the surrounding environment, including the maternal diet, she says.

7-10-17 How a crop-destroying fungus mutated to infect wheat
How a crop-destroying fungus mutated to infect wheat
Genetic analysis traces how pathogen evolved to evade defenses. Wheat blast fungus is a threat to wheat crops worldwide. Researchers have pieced together how the fungus came to to infect wheat. A wheat strain that let its guard down may have paved the way for a crop-destroying fungus to infect the species. About 1980, Brazilian farmers began growing a strain of wheat called Anahuac, which is suited to the country’s nonacidic soils. And that, researchers report July 7 in Science, may be when wheat started to lose an arms race with blast fungus (Pyricularia oryzae, also known as Magnaporthe oryzae). Using genetic analysis, the researchers traced how the fungus – which before 1985 was known to infect just rice and some other grains – evolved to infect wheat, too. Anahuac lacks a functional copy of the Rwt3 gene, which wheat uses to defend itself against the fungus, Yoshihiro Inoue of Kobe University in Japan and colleagues discovered. That gene’s protein recognizes a corresponding protein called PWT3 made by the pathogen. Wheat plants lacking the protective gene don’t see the fungus as a threat. Similarly, blast fungus that doesn’t make PWT3 is essentially invisible to the wheat’s defense mechanism.

7-7-17 Even toddlers expect bullies to get more than their fair share
Even toddlers expect bullies to get more than their fair share
For the first time, there’s evidence that even 17-month-old infants expect socially dominant people to be treated differently in life, and to get more things. Even babies seem to expect bullies to get more in life. For the first time, there’s evidence that infants expect socially dominant people to be treated differently. From as young as 6 months, babies begin to judge other people’s characters, and by the age of 10 months, infants anticipate that bigger things will dominate smaller ones. Now an experiment has found that 17-month-old infants expect dominant people to have more toys and other resources. Previous studies have found that, in the absence of any social differences, infants expect objects to be equally shared out between people. This was discovered by playing videos of Lego pieces being shared between two people, and seeing how long a toddler looked at variations from a fair procedure – a sign of surprise. Other studies involving sharing crackers or milk had similar findings. Now a team has discovered that 17-month-old toddlers follow social cues to adjust their expectations of what a person should have. “They are tuned to what they observe – who is more powerful or competent – and use that to make further predictions,” says team member Hyo Gweon at Stanford University in California. (Webmaster's comment: Like I've said the near human-extinction event 73,000 years ago resulted in the survival of the strongest, most intelligent and most brutal strain of humans.)

7-7-17 Child tooth is fourth fossil clue to mysterious Denisovan humans
Child tooth is fourth fossil clue to mysterious Denisovan humans
Genetic analysis shows a tooth from the Denisova cave in Siberia is only the fourth specimen from elusive early humans who lived alongside Neanderthals. Three becomes four. The extraordinarily sparse fossil record of the Denisovans – an ancient form of human – has gained one more specimen: a tiny, worn tooth belonging to a young girl. It adds to evidence that the Denisovan population in what is now Siberia remained small for tens of thousands of years. The Denisovans are perhaps the most mysterious of all ancient humans. They were discovered in 2010 when geneticists were sequencing DNA from ancient bones they had assumed belonged to Neanderthals. The DNA from a 50,000-year-old fragment of finger bone was so different from any known Neanderthal genetic sequence that the researchers concluded it represented a separate group of humans. Later genetic studies suggested that these distinct ancient humans split away from the Neanderthals sometime between 470,000 and 190,000 years ago. They were named the Denisovans – a reference to the Denisova cave in Siberia, where the finger bone fragment was found. Later, Denisovan DNA turned up in two teeth recovered from the cave. Now, Viviane Slon at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and her colleagues have added a worn milk tooth lost by a girl aged 10 to 12 years old.

7-7-17 Fossil tooth pushes back record of mysterious Neandertal relative
Fossil tooth pushes back record of mysterious Neandertal relative
Denisovans lived in Asia at least 100,000 years ago, DNA analysis suggests. A 10- to 12-year-old female’s worn-down tooth found in a Siberian cave dates to at least 100,000 years ago, researchers report. That makes this fossil, shown from various angles, the oldest known from a Neandertal-related population called Denisovans. DNA retrieved from a child’s worn-down fossil tooth shows the ancient Asian roots of extinct Neandertal relatives called Denisovans, researchers say. A 10- to 12-year-old female Denisovan, represented by the tooth, lived at least 100,000 years ago, conclude evolutionary geneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues. That makes the tooth at least 20,000 years older than the oldest of the three previously discovered Denisovan fossils — a finger fragment and two teeth — the scientists report July 7 in Science Advances. All four Denisovan specimens were unearthed in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. Slon’s group extracted an almost complete set of mitochondrial DNA from the youngster’s tooth. Mitochondrial DNA typically passes from mothers to their children. Investigators also obtained a small amount of nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents.

7-7-17 Hope for a heart disease vaccine
Hope for a heart disease vaccine
A vaccine against heart ­disease has worked successfully in mice, raising the possibility that scientists will develop a breakthrough technique that could save millions of lives. Researchers in Europe tested the experimental vaccine on mice that were fed an unhealthy, high-fat Western diet, leaving them with high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, fatty buildup in the arteries that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. The vaccine effectively lowered the total blood cholesterol level of the mice by 53 percent, The Guardian (U.K.) reports. It also reduced arterial damage linked to atherosclerosis by 64 percent and led to a 28 percent drop in markers of blood vessel inflammation. The vaccine works by triggering the production of antibodies that block an enzyme called PCSK9, which prevents the body from clearing LDL, or “bad” cholesterol from the blood. The antibodies produced by the vaccine remained at high levels throughout the entire 18-week study, suggesting the shot has long-term benefits, unlike daily cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, which can cause muscle pain, confusion, digestive issues, and other side effects. The vaccine is currently being tested on 72 people, with results of the Phase I clinical trial expected by the end of the year. “If these findings translate successfully into humans,” says Gunther Staffler, one of the vaccine’s developers, “we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster.”

7-7-17 The science of getting people to change their minds
The science of getting people to change their minds
Cognitive dissonance helps us see the world in a new way. How do we get others to change their minds? That is the question many of us are asking in this polarizing social and political climate, where the gulf between some people's beliefs appears almost insurmountable. But there is a way, based in the academic field of adult learning, that has helped people confront their own biases and find a new perspective. The key to success is confronting cognitive dissonance, the state of mental discomfort one feels when holding two or more conflicting beliefs or world views at the same time. Coming to terms with cognitive dissonance facilitates what the adult learning theorist Jack Mezirow called transformational learning — identifying and addressing our biases through action, becoming a bit more tolerant along the way. The ability to learn in adulthood is supported by the recent finding that the adult brain is much more plastic than we once believed. "Although the brain was once seen as a rather static organ, it is now clear that the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience," wrote the neuroscientists Bryan Kolb, Robbin Gibb, and Terry E Robinson in their seminal paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science in 2003. This initial discovery and many subsequent studies have been upending the long-held adage that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." In essence, we have a much greater ability to learn in adulthood than we once thought, from learning new skills or knowledge, to the capacity to change one's social or political worldview.

7-7-17 Frogs may have evolved the first kneecaps on Earth
Frogs may have evolved the first kneecaps on Earth
The discovery that frogs have cushy kneecaps pushes back the evolution of this feature, and hints at why they don’t incur as much injury as humans do when jumping. Frogs legs have sprung a big surprise – contrary to textbook biology, they have primitive kneecaps. The kneecaps are made of dense, fibrous cartilage rather than bone, and appear to be much better suited to soaking up the strains of leaping and jumping than the bony human patella. They may have been missed until now because they are not clearly visible on frog leg bones, even with a microscope, says Virginia Abdala of Argentina’s Institute of Neotropical Biodiversity, who led the investigation. The researchers analysed full skeletons of 20 species, but they were only able to see kneecaps in the eight specimens from which they took tissue slices for analysis. One implication of the discovery is that kneecaps like this began to evolve in the Devonian period 400 million years ago, when the first four-legged animals reached land, the researchers say. “Until now it was thought that the evolution of kneecaps coincided with the arrival of tetrapods that lay eggs on land or retain fertilised eggs in the body,” says Abdala. This investigation shows that the process really started with fibrocartilage in frogs, she says.

7-6-17 DNA evidence is rewriting domestication origin stories
DNA evidence is rewriting domestication origin stories
Fresh ideas emerge about the origins of humans’ relationships with their favorite species. Dogs, perhaps humans’ most familiar friends, share developmental features with many other domesticated beasts. Tales of animal and plant domestication are being retold, with some exciting genetic twists. One lab full of rats looks pretty much the same as another. But visiting a lab in Siberia, geneticist Alex Cagan can distinguish rats bred to be tame from those bred to be aggressive as soon as he opens the lab door. “It’s a completely different response immediately,” he says. All of the tame rats “come to the front of the cage very inquisitively.” The aggressive rats scurry to the backs of their cages to hide. Exactly how 70 generations of breeding have ingrained friendly or hostile behaviors in the rats’ DNA is a mystery that domestication researchers are trying to solve. The rats, along with mink and silver foxes, are part of a long-running study at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia. The aim is to replay domestication to determine the genetic underpinnings that set domesticated animals apart from their wild ancestors. For thousands of years, humans have lived with animals. Some of the creatures are companions — hopping onto laps, ready to play fetch. Some have jobs — carrying heavy loads, pulling wagons and plows, and herding other animals. Others provide meat, eggs or milk. Plants, too, have been tamed. On nearly every continent, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and tubers stand in soldier-straight rows and yield bounty on schedule.

7-6-17 How humans (maybe) domesticated themselves
How humans (maybe) domesticated themselves
Tameness may have been selected for in our own species, researchers suspect. In the last 200,000 years, humans may have weeded out members of the species that displayed more aggressive traits. Researchers point to differences between human and Neandertal skulls that indicate tameness. Long before humans domesticated other animals, we may have domesticated ourselves. Over many generations, some scientists propose, humans selected among themselves for tameness. This process resulted in genetic changes, several recent studies suggest, that have shaped people in ways similar to other domesticated species. Tameness, says evolutionary biologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, may boil down to a reduction in reactive aggression — the fly-off-the-handle temperament that makes an animal bare its teeth at the slightest challenge. In this sense, he says, humans are fairly tame. We might show great capacity for premeditated aggression, but we don’t attack every stranger we encounter. Sometime in the last 200,000 years, humans began weeding out people with an overdose of reactive aggression, Wrangham suggests. Increasingly complex social skills would have allowed early humans to gang up against bullies, he proposes, pointing out that hunter-gatherers today have been known to do the same. Those who got along, got ahead. (Webmaster's comment: If we are tamer now than before it's not by much. How much more violence do you need? It's everywhere and getting worse in America!)

7-6-17 Hermaphrodite wildflower has its own battle of the sexes
Hermaphrodite wildflower has its own battle of the sexes
What’s best for the floral male bits clashes with what’s best for female parts. The male and female organs in each white bloom of the wildflower called starry campion are locked in an evolutionary war of parenthood. Petals of wildflowers called starry campions may be a pretty little battleground for a sexual skirmish between the plant’s male and female parts. As is common in flowers, each Silene stellata bloom forms both male and female sex organs. After measuring petal variation between plants and tracking parenthood of seeds, Juannan Zhou suspected a sexual tug-of-war. Flowers with greater male success in spreading pollen and siring seeds across a flower patch tended toward longer and narrower petals, Zhou reported June 26 at the Evolution 2017 meeting. Yet flowers that did especially well by their female organs, maturing abundant seeds in their own ovaries, tended toward wider and shorter petals.

7-6-17 Science reveals 7 secrets to an amazing relationship
Science reveals 7 secrets to an amazing relationship
Practice these methods with your partner and you're more likely to be happy in love. Everybody would love to have an amazing relationship. But most of the advice you get isn't from real experts. Whaddya say we just go ahead and fix that? Albert Ellis was quite a character. He was controversial. Outspoken. A bit of a rebel. In fact, the book he's most famous for was titled: How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything. Clever but a bit unprofessional, right? Here's the thing: According to a survey of psychologists he was the second most influential psychotherapist ever. Sigmund Freud came in third. And he also covered romantic relationships, most notably in his book, Making Intimate Connections: Seven Guidelines for Great Relationships and Better Communication. What did Ellis have to say about making your relationship amazing? Let's get to it.

  1. Accept your partner "as is": You can return it to the store but trying to repair it yourself voids the warranty.
  2. Express appreciation frequently: You're with them for a reason. Tell them the reason. Often.
  3. Communicate from integrity: Admit when you're wrong. And don't punish them for telling the truth, even if you don't like the truth.
  4. Share and explore differences with your partner: Don't dodge the tough stuff. It's okay to agree to disagree.
  5. Support your partner's goals: If it matters to them, it'd be a really good thing if it mattered to you too.
  6. Give your partner the right to be wrong: You're not perfect. So don't insist that they be.
  7. Reconsider your wants as goals: They don't "have to" do anything. But if you stop insisting, they might start agreeing.
  • Signs of a Healthy Relationship
  • Trust, Respect, Support And Affirmation, Safety, Honesty, Partnership And Commitment, Intimacy And Open Communication, Negotiation And Compromise, and Accountability!

7-6-17 CRISPR gene editing technique is probably safe, study confirms
CRISPR gene editing technique is probably safe, study confirms
A study claiming CRISPR gene editing can cause thousands of unwanted mutations may have got it wrong, meaning the technique could be safe for treating people. As you were. In May, a study claimed that the revolutionary CRISPR gene editing technique can cause thousands of unwanted and potentially dangerous mutations. The authors called for regulators to reassess the safety of the technique. But doubts were raised about these claims from the very beginning, not least because it was a tiny study involving just three mice. Some critics have called for the paper to be withdrawn. Now a paper posted online on 5 July has proposed a simple and more plausible explanation for the controversial results. If it’s right, the authors of the original study were wrong. “We strongly encourage the authors to restate the title and conclusions of their original paper or provide properly controlled experiments that can adequately support their claims,” write the team behind the new study. “Not doing so does a disservice to the field and leaves the misleading impression that the strong statements and recommendations found in their paper are adequately supported by the data presented.” The aim of gene editing is to make a precise change in a DNA sequence while leaving the rest of the genome untouched. Gene editing can be used to introduce desirable changes into plants and animals (and perhaps people too one day), and to treat a range of disorders in people.

7-5-17 Double-duty DNA plays a role in birth and death
Double-duty DNA plays a role in birth and death
Some gene versions stuck around because fertility advantage outweighs heart disease risk. Genes associated with reproduction are also implicated in heart disease, new research shows. Babies are little heartbreakers — literally. Genetic variants linked to fertility are also linked to coronary artery disease, a new study finds. It’s not uncommon to find genes that affect more than one trait, but this is the first time scientists have seen a genetic connection between reproduction and heart disease, the researchers report online June 22 in PLOS Genetics. “Evolution is on a buy now, pay later plan,” says coauthor Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University. The connection “leads to a view of us as a bundle of trade-offs,” he says. And in this case, genes’ reproductive benefits apparently outweigh even lethal side effects later in life. Coronary artery disease — one of the most deadly diseases worldwide — results from plaque accumulation in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. That type of buildup, which can start in young adulthood, has afflicted humans for millennia, and scientists have wondered why the genetic variants complicit in the disease haven’t yet been weeded out of the gene pool.

7-5-17 The ethics issue: Should we edit our children’s genomes?
The ethics issue: Should we edit our children’s genomes?
Tweaking genes to prevent your child dying early from a genetic disorder would be acceptable to most people, but we need to ask how far we should go. The thought of shaping future generations to fit some pre-imagined ideal of strength and beauty is one that should make us uncomfortable. Once a fashionable field of enquiry, the study of eugenics remains associated with some of the worst excesses of the 20th century, from forced sterilisation to genocide. The lesson we might be tempted to draw from this is to let nature proceed unchecked, free from human meddling, and embrace the diversity it engenders. But as ethically comforting as that sounds, deciding to do nothing is a decision in itself. We may like to think of humans as perfect, finished natural products that should not be interfered with, but nature’s creations are botch jobs, full of mindless mistakes. And evolution’s way of getting rid of the worst mistakes is to let children suffer horribly and die young. In the interests of human well-being, then, should we head back down the slippery slope? Actually, we already have. In most countries, it is already legal to shape the genomes of our children in various ways, from the abortion of fetuses with Down’s syndrome to the screening of embryos during IVF. Last year, the thin end of the wedge got that little bit thicker when the UK gave the go-ahead for what have been called “three-parent babies“, whose mitochondrial DNA is supplied by a third-party donor. And now, thanks to the revolutionary genome-editing method known as CRISPR, we can directly edit the main genome of cells. In theory, CRISPR could be used to weed out the hundreds of mutations that make us more likely to suffer from disorders ranging from heart attacks to cancer to Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia, greatly improving the health of future generations.

7-5-17 The ethics issue: Should we let synthetic life forms loose?
The ethics issue: Should we let synthetic life forms loose?
New forms of life could help tackle problems from famine to global warming, but releasing them into the wild raises biosafety concerns. Biologist George Church is making forms of life that could never arise naturally. He and his team are changing the genetic code of E. coli bacteria used in drug manufacture so as to make them immune to all viruses: a giant step forward for the industry. But the very immunity that serves us so well in a vat in the lab could come back to bite us if those bacteria wound up in our bodies. Church’s team at Harvard University is just one of hundreds around the world creating “synthetic life”, some kinds meant for labs and factories, others for farms. Can we really control these creations? Can we ensure they remain where we want them? Or do the potential risks to us and to wildlife mean it would be better not to meddle with synthetic life at all? “Biocontainment is our number one priority,” Church told New Scientist last year when he unveiled his latest creation. To ensure his recoded organisms cannot go feral, he has altered them so they are dependent on chemicals that don’t occur naturally. Others want to go much further, creating forms of life based on molecules not used by any other organism. With an entirely different biochemistry, such truly synthetic life would pose little risk – at least in theory. But less alien forms of synthetic life are already common. Many drugs are now produced by modified cells, for instance, and more than a tenth of arable land is planted with genetically modified crops.

7-5-17 Eating lots of sugar when pregnant may raise risk of allergies
Eating lots of sugar when pregnant may raise risk of allergies
Pregnant women who eat large amounts of sugar are twice as likely to have children who go on to develop allergic asthma, according to a study of 9,000 women. Pregnant women who eat large amounts of sugar may be more likely to have children with allergies. A study of 9,000 women found that those who ate high levels of sugar during pregnancy were around twice as likely to have a child that went on to develop allergic asthma than woman who ate relatively little sugar. Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, and involves allergens provoking the immune system into causing breathing problems. “We cannot say on the basis of these observations that high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring,” says Seif Shaheen, at Queen Mary, University of London, who led the study. “However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency.” One theory for how sugar could cause asthma is that large amounts of fructose might trigger an immune response in the body, leading to inflammation in the lungs. Fructose is a sugar found in fruit and corn syrup, and is used widely in processed food.

7-5-17 Serious head injuries nearly double your risk of dementia
Serious head injuries nearly double your risk of dementia
The risk of developing non-Alzheimer’s dementia is nearly twice as high for people who sustain severe head injuries than for those who have mild ones. Serious head injuries nearly double a person’s risk of developing dementia. That’s the message from an analysis of over 40,000 people who sustained some kind of head injury between 1986 and 2014. Half the people in the study had moderate-to-severe head injuries, which cause lesions in the brain and require a person to stay in hospital for three days or more. The other half had milder head injuries with no lesions, and were able to go home within a day. Comparing the longer-term health of these two groups revealed that the risk of developing non-Alzheimer’s dementia is 90 per cent higher in those with moderate-to-severe injuries, says Rahul Raj at the University of Helsinki, Finland. This was the case even after taking factors like education and socioeconomic status into account, he says. In all, 696 of the 19,936 people with severe head injuries went on to develop dementia, while only 326 of the 20,703 people with milder injuries did the same. The risk of dementia was highest in people who sustained severe, traumatic head injuries between the ages of 41 and 50.

7-5-17 Bad eczema flare-ups may be caused by strains of bacteria
Bad eczema flare-ups may be caused by strains of bacteria
Healthy skin has a mix of bacteria living on it, but increases in particular strains of Staphylococcus has been linked to bad eczema flare-ups in children. Particular strains of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria have been linked to skin irritation in children with eczema, suggesting that the microbes that live on our skin play a role in the disorder. Eczema affects up to 20 per cent of children, periodically causing bouts of dry and itchy skin. The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly found on skin, is particularly prevalent in people with eczema, but its exact role in the condition is unclear. To learn more, Heidi Kong at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and colleagues collected samples of bacteria from the skin on different parts of the body in 11 children with eczema. They did this while the skin was healthy, during eczema flare-ups, and after flare-ups, as well as taking samples from seven children who don’t have eczema. The team used a DNA sequencing technique to analyse which species and strains of bacteria were in the samples. They found that, during severe flare-ups, communities of skin bacteria became dominated by particular strains of S. aureus. When children had only mild symptoms or no symptoms, the mix of bacteria present on their skin was more diverse. This finding echoes research on gut microbes, where greater diversity of bacteria has been linked to better health.

7-5-17 Using light to reset the body clock can treat brain disorders
Using light to reset the body clock can treat brain disorders
Hospitals are usually badly lit, but many are starting to use light therapy to treat depression, alleviate Parkinson’s disease, and improve stroke recovery. BILLIONS of dollars have been spent in search of treatments for psychiatric conditions and brain disorders, when a cheap and effective drug may have been right under our noses: light. Now hospitals are turning to light to treat depression, strokes and Parkinson’s disease, using it to hit the reset button on our internal clocks. From green light soothing the pain of migraine, to blue light reducing organ damage during surgery, recent small studies have uncovered some intriguing effects of this therapy. But apart from easing seasonal affective disorder, we’ve been slow to embrace light as a serious contender for treating neurological conditions. We’ve known for 15 years that a special kind of receptor in our eyes transmits information directly to the body’s master clock, as well as other brain areas that control mood and alertness. These cells are particularly responsive to bluish light, including sunlight. These receptors enable light to act as a powerful reset switch, keeping the clock in our brain synced to the outside world. But this clock can fall out of sync or weaken as part of ageing or a range of disorders – a problem doctors are now starting to treat with light.

7-5-17 Cancer vaccines could prime our own bodies to fight tumours
Cancer vaccines could prime our own bodies to fight tumours
Two therapies that trigger the immune system into attacking cancer suggest personalised vaccines can eradicate tumours, but bigger trials are needed. COULD this be the cancer advance we have been waiting for? Cancer vaccines that can trigger a person’s immune system into killing a tumour have long been a goal. Now two slightly different ways of doing this have had promising results. The therapies need to be tested in bigger trials, but the initial results from a small number of people with skin cancer are being heralded as major progress. “This could be huge,” says Cornelis Melief of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our immune system recognises bacteria and viruses as foreign invaders by the different protein molecules they have on their surface. Because tumour cells have mutations that also make them look different, the immune system sometimes targets them – but the cancers that prove fatal somehow escape this attack. For decades, researchers have been trying to find ways to ramp up the immune response to tumours, usually by injecting people with immune-stimulating drugs and the molecules thought to be present on the surface of the cancer cells. However, so far, nothing has worked well. Part of the problem may be that all cancers are different – each person’s tumour can have hundreds of mutations. Also, prompting the immune system to target one particular molecule can fail because tumours can mutate again and stop being recognised.

7-5-17 Children who sleep less may age faster at a cellular level
Children who sleep less may age faster at a cellular level
The less sleep kids get, the shorter the telomeres that cap off their chromosomes are – a sign of ageing that has been linked to cancer and heart disease. A LACK of sleep doesn’t just turn children into a grumpy handful, it may also accelerate their cellular ageing – a process that could have long-term health effects. Telomeres – the caps at the ends of our chromosomes – get shorter every time our cells divide, and when they get too short, it is thought that cells are no longer able to divide to repair and replenish the body – a sign of ageing. Some small studies in adults have suggested that sleep might be linked to telomere length. To find out if it is also the case in children, Sarah James and Daniel Notterman at Princeton University and their team dug into a database. It included information on average sleep duration collected from 1567 9-year-old children from cities across the US. The team extracted DNA from saliva samples from the children, and examined the length of their telomeres. They found that telomeres were shorter in children who slept less (The Journal of Pediatrics, doi.org/b87r). “Telomere length is 1.5 per cent shorter for each hour less that children sleep per night,” says James. Short telomeres have been linked to cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline, but these children showed no signs of these diseases – probably because of their young age. However, they may have a higher risk of developing these disorders in later life, says James. “It raises concerns.”

7-5-17 Archaeologists discover skeletons of 5,000-year-old Chinese 'giants'
Archaeologists discover skeletons of 5,000-year-old Chinese 'giants'
The skeletons of "giants" have been discovered in Neolithic Chinese graves, leading archaeologists to wonder about the ancient people who inhabited the region near Jinan City in Shandong province some 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists excavating the site discovered bones indicating many people in the ancient population stood over 5 feet 9 inches tall, with one man estimated to be over 6 feet 2 inches tall. "Although not particularly unusual by 21st-century Western standards, it is thought their height would have seen them tower over many of their contemporaries," The Independent writes. By comparison, the modern day average height of men over 18 in Shandong is 5 feet 7 inches, while the average for all of China is 5 feet 6 inches. Confucius, a native of Shandong who lived between 551 and 479 BC, was believed to stand 6 feet 2 inches tall. Researchers noticed that at the Shandong excavation site, taller men had larger graves, drawing a link between wealth and access to better food. "Already agricultural at that time, people had diverse and rich food resources and thus their physique changed," the head of Shandong University's school of history and culture, Fang Hui, told China Daily. The archaeologists discovered 205 graves in addition to 104 houses and 20 sacrificial pits.

7-4-17 We may have mated with Neanderthals more than 219,000 years ago
We may have mated with Neanderthals more than 219,000 years ago
Analysis of DNA from a fossilised Neanderthal bone suggests modern human ancestors entered Europe and interbred with locals more than 219,000 years ago. It’s a sex-laced mystery. If modern humans didn’t reach Europe until about 60,000 years ago, how has DNA from them turned up in a Neanderthal fossil in Germany from 124,000 years ago? The answer seems to be that there was a previous migration of early humans – more than 219,000 years ago. One that we’re only just starting to reveal from piecemeal evidence that is DNA extracted from fossilised bones. The story, as far as we knew it, was that the ancestors of modern humans diverged from Neanderthals and Denisovans between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago. While Neanderthals and Denisovans inhabited Eurasia, modern humans stayed in Africa until about 60,000 years ago. Then they entered Europe, too. There is ample evidence of breeding between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans some 50,000 years ago. “Everyone knows Neanderthals gave us genes,” says Cosimo Posth at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Leipzig, Germany. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA from a Neanderthal femur found in south-western Germany now adds to evidence that there was earlier interbreeding. The DNA in the energy-producing mitochondria in our cells is different from that in our cell nuclei, and is passed only down the female line. Puzzlingly, the mtDNA in Neanderthal bones is more similar to that of modern humans than it is to that of the Denisovans. (Webmaster's comment: Hominins seem to have bred with any other hominins of the opposite sex even if they were not exactly the same species. The drive to breed even today is still as overwhelming.)

7-4-17 Scientists explain ancient Rome's long-lasting concrete
Scientists explain ancient Rome's long-lasting concrete
Researchers have unlocked the chemistry of Roman concrete which has resisted the elements for thousands of years. Ancient sea walls built by the Romans used a concrete made from lime and volcanic ash to bind with rocks. Now scientists have discovered that elements within the volcanic material reacted with sea water to strengthen the construction. They believe the discovery could lead to more environmentally friendly building materials. Unlike the modern concrete mixture which erodes over time, the Roman substance has long puzzled researchers. Rather than eroding, particularly in the presence of sea water, the material seems to gain strength from the exposure. In previous tests with samples from ancient Roman sea walls and harbours, researchers learned that the concrete contained a rare mineral called aluminium tobermorite. They believe that this strengthening substance crystallised in the lime as the Roman mixture generated heat when exposed to sea water.

7-4-17 Giant croc had teeth like a T. rex
Giant croc had teeth like a T. rex
Researchers have described new fossils belonging to an extinct crocodile-like creature that had a set of serrated teeth like those of a T. rex. The animal was a top predator in Madagascar 170 million years ago, around the time dinosaurs roamed Earth. Its huge jaw and serrated teeth suggest that, like T. rex, it fed on hard animal tissue such as bone and tendon. It appears to be the earliest and biggest representative of a group of croc-like animals called Notosuchians. The animal's scientific name is Razanandrongobe sakalavae, which means "giant lizard ancestor from Sakalava region". This specialised predator differed from present-day crocodilians in having a distinct skull shape and powerful straight legs. In the open access journal, PeerJ, Cristiano Dal Sasso, Simone Maganuco and colleagues describe new bones from the skull of this massive crocodilian - which is nicknamed Razana. "Based on the preserved skull bones, we infer a body shape similar to that of baurusuchids [another type of Notosuchian from South America], and consequently an overall length of 7m (23 feet) - 1.6 m at the hips - and a weight of 800-1000 kg (2,200 pounds)," Dr Dal Sasso, from the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy, told BBC News. These dimensions are comparable to those of modern relatives of Razana: "As a matter of fact, an adult salt-water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) can reach 7m in length and weigh up to one tonne," Dr Dal Sasso added.

7-3-17 Frog evolution linked to dinosaur asteroid strike
Frog evolution linked to dinosaur asteroid strike
The huge diversity of frogs we see today is mainly a consequence of the asteroid strike that killed off the dinosaurs, a study suggests. A new analysis shows that frog populations exploded after the extinction event 66 million years ago. It would appear to contradict earlier evidence suggesting a much more ancient origin for many key frog groups. The work by a US-Chinese team of researchers is outlined in the journal PNAS. Frogs became one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates, with more than 6,700 described species. But a lack of genetic data has hampered efforts to trace their evolutionary history. The new study shows that three major lineages of modern frogs - which together comprise about 88% of living frog species - appeared almost simultaneously. This impressive diversification of species appears to have occurred on the heels of the asteroid, which struck what is now the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Releasing upwards of a billion times more energy than an atom bomb, the space impact wiped out three-quarters of all life on Earth. But it also appears to have set the stage for the rise of frogs.

7-3-17 Demise of dinosaurs opened the doors to the age of tree frogs
Demise of dinosaurs opened the doors to the age of tree frogs
Frogs leaped to take advantage of the global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Frogs leaped to take advantage of the global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs. New research shows that 88 per cent of frog species alive today owe their existence to the meteor impact that wiped the planet clean of most terrestrial life 66 million years ago. Nearly nine out of 10 of the amphibian species are descended from just three lineages that survived the mass extinction. Each of them jumped forward precisely at the junction of the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods – formerly known as the KT boundary – when the disaster happened. The first survivors may have ridden out the meteor strike by burrowing underground, the scientists believe. Thereafter, it was arboreal tree frogs that led the way by exploiting newly available habitat niches. Previous research had suggested that frog evolution took off 35 million years earlier and had nothing to do with the dinosaur apocalypse. “We know that the mass extinction event wiped out most of the dinosaurs, except for a few bird species, which then exploded in diversity and became one of the dominant groups of land animals,” says study co-author David Hillis, from the University of Texas at Austin, US. “As we look at more and more groups of life, we see the same pattern, and that turns out to be the case for frogs as well.” David Wake, from the University of California at Berkeley, says a key factor in early frog success was the way the creatures adapted to living in trees as flowering plants spread across the planet.

7-2-17 Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting
Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting
Kids are initially drawn to bold, bright areas of paintings, but their gazes can change after learning more about the work, a study finds. One of the best things about having young children is that they give you a new way to see the world — a total cliché, yes, but true. Rainbows in water fountains are mesmerizing. Roly-poly bugs are worth stopping for. Bright blouses on strangers are remarked on, loudly. It’s occasionally embarrassing but always fun to see how this gorgeous world captivates children. An inventive new study attempted to get inside the minds of children as they looked at works of art, specifically paintings hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Francesco Walker, a cognitive psychologist who conducted the study while at VU University Amsterdam, and colleagues equipped nine children and 12 adults with eye-tracking headsets as they observed five paintings. The children were ages 11 and 12. Participants saw each painting twice, before and after hearing a description of the art. When the children first viewed a Van Gogh painting, they focused on bold, bright colors and attention-grabbing objects: A striped house, vivid roses, dark trees painted against a light skyline.

7-2-17 Aztec tower of human skulls uncovered in Mexico City
Aztec tower of human skulls uncovered in Mexico City
Tales of the tower of skulls which struck fear into the hearts of Spanish conquistadors have been passed down through the generations in Mexico. Said to be the heads of defeated warriors, contemporary accounts describe tens of thousands of skulls looming over the soldiers - a reminder of what would happen if they did not conquer territory. For the next 500 years, the skulls lay undisturbed underneath what was once the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, but is now Mexico City. Until, that is, a group of archaeologists began the painstaking work of uncovering their secrets two years ago. What they found has shocked them, because in among the skulls of the young men are those of women and children - bringing into question everything historians thought they knew.

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