144 Evolution News Articles
for August 2017
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8-31-17 Your teenager’s biology demands later school starts and lie-ins
Your teenager’s biology demands later school starts and lie-ins
Schools in the US and beyond are right to consider a later start time for teenage students given growing evidence about adolescent body clocks, says Russell Foster. The tendency to sleep at a particular time each day defines an individual’s “chronotype”. Although profoundly influenced by genetics and light exposure, age-related body changes play a key role. Puberty heralds a notable shift as bedtimes and wake times get later. This trend continues until 19.5 years in women and nearly 21 in men. Then it gradually reverses. By 55 we wake at around the time we did as young children, approximately two hours earlier than as adolescents. So a 7 am alarm call for a teenager is equivalent to a 5 am start for someone in their 50s. The precise reasons are unclear but correlate with the neural and hormonal changes of puberty and then the decline in these hormones with age. This has consequences. A study from the University of Toronto compared cognitive performance mid-morning and mid-afternoon in teenagers and adults. Test scores in teenagers increased by 10 per cent from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, while in adults they declined by 7 per cent. These findings highlight an important dilemma. Teachers in their 50s will generally be at their best in the morning, but not so their teenage students, and it is the teachers who determine the timetables. The tacit assumption for over a century has been that students are most alert in the morning and this is when the most demanding subjects should be taught. This assumption is wrong for most teenagers.
8-31-17 This is how some blind people are able to echolocate like bats
This is how some blind people are able to echolocate like bats
Some people who are blind use mouth clicks to “see” the world like bats. Now we’re beginning to understand how they do it, and other people may be able to learn. Some people who are blind can echolocate like bats, making clicks with their mouths that help them understand the environment around them. Now researchers are beginning to understand how this works, so non-sighted people may one day be able to learn the technique. While many people who are blind get information from ambient echoes, only a few make noises themselves to echolocate. Some, such as Daniel Kish (pictured), are so proficient they can draw a sketch of a room after clicking their way around it, or even go mountain biking along unfamiliar routes. Previous research revealed that this human echolocation involves some brain areas that are used for vision in sighted people. Kish, who was blind almost from birth, thinks he experiences the sensations as something akin to images. “It’s not computational. There’s a real palpable experience of the image as a spatial representation – here are walls, here are the corners, here is the presence of objects.” In the latest study, Lore Thaler of Durham University, UK, and her team carried out the first in-depth acoustic analysis of the mouth clicks. They worked with Kish and two other blind echolocators from the Netherlands and Austria. The clicks took the form of highly focused sound waves emitted in a 60-degree cone, compared with 120 to 180 degrees for typical speech. The echolocators had unknowingly worked out how to “point” their clicks towards the space they were sensing, says Thaler.
8-31-17 Blind children should be allowed to learn to echolocate like me
Blind children should be allowed to learn to echolocate like me
The world’s most famous human echolocator Daniel Kish wants to teach more people who are blind how to navigate with mouthclicks like he does. The world’s most famous human echolocator Daniel Kish wants more people who are blind to have the chance to learn to navigate with mouthclicks like he does. Kish has been blind almost since birth, but he can navigate around unfamiliar places just by making “click” sounds with his mouth and listening to the echoes. “You can tell a tree from a post and from a human,” says Kish. Blind children sometimes discover echolocation for themselves but are often stopped from using it by well-meaning parents and teachers, who don’t want them to seem different. It’s akin to the way deaf people used to be discouraged from using sign language, says Kish. Kish taught himself the technique as a toddler, and wants other children to be able to learn. He advocates giving children who are blind a cane at a young age – even before they can walk – and allowing them to explore their environment, without holding on to someone. “Most blind children are only taught how to move around while being guided by others, or to follow routes designed by others,” he says. “They don’t get any form of training in freedom of movement, which is establishing your relationship with your environment in your own way. It’s assumed that a blind person could not do that.” Some specialist schools for children who are blind have even banned the use of canes. “The cane is often regarded as troublesome,” says Kish. “Blind kids who are less mobile are easier to manage, as they are less demanding and more compliant.”
8-31-17 We may finally understand why tropical plants have huge leaves
We may finally understand why tropical plants have huge leaves
Tropical plants like bananas have much bigger leaves than temperate ones like heather. It might be how they avoid getting too hot or too cold. Why do plants’ leaves shrink the further from the equator they grow? It may all be to do with maintaining a comfortable temperature. Leaves vary greatly in size, from less than 1 square millimetre to almost 1 square metre. Large-leaved plants like bananas and palms tend to live in the tropics, while small-leaved plants like heather and clover are found closer to the poles. Botanists first noticed this latitude trend in the 19th century, but nobody has convincingly explained it. One idea is that leaf size is important for preventing overheating. But large leaves absorb more of the sun’s heat and get hotter than small ones, suggesting they should be found in cold regions, not the tropics. To solve this puzzle, Ian Wright at Macquarie University in Sydney and his colleagues studied the leaves of 7670 plant species found at different latitudes. The team looked at the relationship between leaf size and various aspects of climate, including day and night temperatures, rainfall and humidity. They found that avoiding night-time freezing is just as important for plants as avoiding daytime heat stress. Wright and his team showed that this balancing act depends on two main factors. The first is how much water the leaf has available to cool itself down via transpiration – a process similar to sweating. The second is the boundary layer: a pocket of still air that surrounds each leaf and acts as an insulator.
8-31-17 Will psychedelics for depression be just another false dawn?
Will psychedelics for depression be just another false dawn?
Mind-bending street drugs are increasingly being hailed as potent antidepressants. Will they live up to the claims, ask Colin Hendrie and Alisdair Pickles. The current global crisis of depressive illness has a simple root cause: a failure of treatment. This is the result of a broken scientific process that has for nearly 70 years fallen short in delivering the drug therapies it was set up to provide. Given existing antidepressants don’t work for many people, the excitement surrounding the development of a new class of treatments from recreational drugs such as magic mushrooms is understandable. But there are strong reasons to doubt they will have the kind of impact hoped for. Instead, we are more likely to be seeing the latest episode in a long-running saga of repeated disappointment. This saga began when antidepressant use became widespread in the 1950s and 1960s. It was hoped they would have the same transformative effect on mental illness that antibiotics had on non-viral infectious diseases. As it turned out, antidepressants were only of value to some people with depression. Studies involving thousands of people with the condition reveal that the proportion seeing a clinically significant response to antidepressants is often very similar to that seen with a placebo, which is about 40 per cent. In double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, antidepressants don’t fare well. This helps to explain why, by the end of the 20th century, Big Pharma was floundering over the development of new drugs for depression. In 2010, many companies stopped such work.
8-31-17 Fiery re-creations show how Neandertals could have easily made tar
Fiery re-creations show how Neandertals could have easily made tar
Burning sticky goo may not have required the mastery of fire. Using a simple experimental technique, researchers collected tar in a birch-bark vessel. This method, which could have been used by Neandertals as early as 200,000 years ago, consists of placing embers from a fire over a roll of burning birch bark positioned upright in a small pit. Neandertals took stick-to-itiveness to a new level. Using just scraps of wood and hot embers, our evolutionary cousins figured out how to make tar, a revolutionary adhesive that they used to make formidable spears, chopping tools and other implements by attaching sharp-edged stones to handles, a new study suggests. Researchers already knew that tar-coated stones date to at least 200,000 years ago at Neandertal sites in Europe, well before the earliest known evidence of tar production by Homo sapiens, around 70,000 years ago in Africa. Now, archaeologist Paul Kozowyk of Leiden University in the Netherlands and colleagues have re-created the methods that these extinct members of the human genus could have used to produce tar. Three straightforward techniques could have yielded enough adhesive for Neandertals’ purposes, Kozowyk’s team reports August 31 in Scientific Reports. Previous studies have found that tar lumps found at Neandertal sites derive from birch bark. Neandertal tar makers didn’t need ceramic containers such as kilns and didn’t have to heat the bark to precise temperatures, the scientists conclude.
8-30-17 We’ve seen how our brains file away memories for the first time
We’ve seen how our brains file away memories for the first time
You may be daydreaming, but your brain is hard at work. When we rest, our brains’ hippocampi regions replay new memories, filing them away for long-term storage. WHILE you’re daydreaming, your brain is hard at work. For the first time, scans have shown human brains replaying individual memories, filing them away for long-term storage. Research in rats has found that the hippocampus region of their brain forms new memories by replaying patterns of brain activity linked to specific experiences. When neuroscientists watch the brain activity of a rat running through a maze, for example, they find the same pattern being replayed when the rat sleeps. Now, Anna Schapiro of Harvard Medical School and her team have seen memories replaying in people. They asked 24 volunteers to learn about 15 made-up satellites. After 45 minutes of memorising their names and what they looked like, participants did a memory test. The team then used an fMRI scanner to detect the brain activity elicited by images of the satellites. After a break, the volunteers were shown the pictures in the scanner again, to confirm this activity. They then rested while still being scanned, before doing a second memory test. Analysing the scans, the team found that specific patterns of brain activity associated with the satellites were replayed during rest. “This is the first evidence for item-specific replay in the human hippocampus,” the team says.
8-30-17 How menopause and Alzheimer’s change the brain in similar ways
How menopause and Alzheimer’s change the brain in similar ways
Brain changes during menopause that resemble Alzheimer's hint at how the disease starts and could help us stop it in its tracks. “WE ALL expect the hot flashes,” says Lynne Wardale, who started experiencing the symptoms of the menopause around 15 years ago, when she was 48. “I would get them daily, and sometimes they would go on for half an hour. But I wasn’t expecting the migraines or the mood swings.” Her sister, Vicki Henderson, experienced intense anxiety when she went through it in her early 40s. “I was short-tempered and experienced a bit of forgetfulness, as well as insomnia,” she says. The menopause directly affects half of us, yet there’s a lot we still don’t understand about it – not least why it impacts on mood, memory and concentration. But, surprisingly, these cognitive effects may hold the key not only to safely treating this change itself, but also to tackling a disease that presents similar symptoms – Alzheimer’s. Changes in the brain that occur during menopause so closely resemble those seen in Alzheimer’s that some researchers suggest it may signal the start of the disease. “We are trying to find out what happens at that particular time that puts brains at risk,” says Roberta Brinton, a neuroscientist studying Alzheimer’s at the University of Southern California who has turned her attention to the menopause. That knowledge might lead to new ways to help women deal with the unpleasant symptoms of the menopause. Even better, it is possible that therapies to artificially boost hormone levels could protect the brain from these changes altogether – potentially staving off the ravages of dementia later in life.
8-30-17 FDA approves gene therapy to treat a rare cancer
FDA approves gene therapy to treat a rare cancer
A gene therapy treatment called CAR-T immunotherapy has been approved for use in a rare type of leukemia. Immune cells called T cells (shown) are engineered to seek and destroy specific types of cancer. On August 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a novel gene therapy for patients with a rare type of leukemia. This is the first time the agency has greenlighted a gene therapy approach for use in the United States. The treatment, called CAR-T immunotherapy, uses genetically engineered T cells, immune system fighters usually tasked with identifying invaders in the body, such as bacteria, viruses or foreign cells. The engineered cells, called CAR-T cells, are customized for each patient. An individual’s T cells are collected and altered in the lab to carry a new gene that directs the T cells to attack certain cancer cells. Those modified T cells are injected back into the patient to seek out and destroy the cancer. CAR-T cell therapy has shown promise in fighting a type of cancer called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, which can strike children and adults. Several CAR-T approaches are in the works, including an experimental therapy that made headlines in 2015 when it was used in England to treat a 1-year-old girl with leukemia. The FDA approved an approach to CAR-T therapy manufactured by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, called Kymriah. The approval applies to children and young adults (up to age 25) with B-cell ALL that doesn’t respond to treatment or has relapsed.
8-30-17 First cancer 'living drug' gets go-ahead
First cancer 'living drug' gets go-ahead
The US has approved the first treatment to redesign a patient's own immune system so it attacks cancer. The regulator - the US Food and Drug Administration - said its decision was a "historic" moment and medicine was now "entering a new frontier". The company Novartis is charging $475,000 (£367,000) for the "living drug" therapy, which leaves 83% of people free of a type of blood cancer. Doctors in the UK said the announcement was an exciting step forward. The living drug is tailor-made to each patient, unlike conventional therapies such as surgery or chemotherapy. It is called CAR-T and is made by extracting white blood cells from the patient's blood. The cells are then genetically reprogrammed to seek out and kill cancer. The cancer-killers are then put back inside the patient and once they find their target they multiply. Dr Scott Gottlieb, from the FDA, said: "We're entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient's own cells to attack a deadly cancer. "New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine and create an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses." The therapy, which will be marketed as Kymriah, works against acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Most patients respond to normal therapy and Kymriah has been approved for when those treatments fail.
8-30-17 Human blood and skin cells used to treat Parkinson’s in monkeys
Human blood and skin cells used to treat Parkinson’s in monkeys
For the first time, stem cells from adults rather than embryos have relieved Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys. A trial is now being prepared for people. MONKEYS with a Parkinson’s-like disease have been successfully treated with stem cells that improved their movement for up to two years after transplant. A similar trial is now being prepared for people. Parkinson’s destroys dopamine-producing cells in the brain, leading to tremors and difficulty moving. Previous experiments using stem cells from embryos have shown promise in replacing lost cells, but the use of these is controversial. Jun Takahashi at Kyoto University, Japan, and colleagues wondered whether they could treat monkeys with a disease like Parkinson’s using induced pluripotent stem cells, which are made by coaxing blood or skin cells into becoming stem cells. The team generated stem cells from three people with Parkinson’s and four without the disease. They then transformed these into dopamine-producing brain cells. All the monkeys who received injections of these cells showed a 40 to 55 per cent improvement in their movements, matching results from previous experiments with embryonic stem cells. Monkeys who had a control injection minus the cells didn’t improve (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature23664). Stem cells from people with and without Parkinson’s were equally effective. “The monkeys became more active… and showed less tremor,” says Takahashi. “Their movements became smoother.”
8-30-17 Muscle pain in people on statins may have a genetic link
Muscle pain in people on statins may have a genetic link
Popular cholesterol drugs could cause aches in people with one form of gene. Many people stop taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins because of muscle pain and other side effects, but it hasn’t been clear that the drugs cause the aches. A new study throws genes into the mix, both enlightening and confusing the issue. A new genetics study adds fuel to the debate about muscle aches that have been reported by many people taking popular cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. About 60 percent of people of European descent carry a genetic variant that may make them more susceptible to muscle aches in general. But counterintuitively, these people had a lower risk of muscle pain when they took statins compared with placebos, researchers report August 29 in the European Heart Journal. Millions of people take statins to lower cholesterol and fend off the hardening of arteries. But up to 78 percent of patients stop taking the medicine. One common reason for ceasing the drugs’ use is side effects, especially muscle pain, says John Guyton, a clinical lipidologist at Duke University School of Medicine. It has been unclear, however, whether statins are to blame for the pain. In one study, 43 percent of patients who had muscle aches while taking at least one type of statin were also pained by other types of statin (SN: 5/13/17, p. 22). But 37 percent of muscle-ache sufferers in that study had pain not related to statin use. Other clinical trials have found no difference in muscle aches between people taking statins and those not taking the drugs.
8-30-17 Our greatest creation: Where maths comes from and what it’s for
Our greatest creation: Where maths comes from and what it’s for
Maths helps us comprehend the incredible complexity of the universe, but are we born with the ability to calculate, or did we invent it? TO THE Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields medal, mathematics often felt like “being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks”. Mirzakhani, who died on 14 July at the age of 40, ventured deeper into the mathematical jungle than most. Nonetheless, most of us have spent enough time on its periphery to have a sense of what the terrain looks like. Increasingly, it seems as if humans are the only animals with the cognitive ability to hack their way through the undergrowth. But where does this ability come from? Why did we develop it? And what is it for? Answering these questions involves diving into one of the hottest debates in neuroscience, and reimagining what mathematics really is. The natural world is a complex and unpredictable place. Habitats change, predators strike, food runs out. An organism’s survival depends on its ability to make sense of its surroundings, whether by counting down to nightfall, figuring out the quickest way to escape danger or weighing up the spots most likely to have food. And that, says Karl Friston, a computational neuroscientist and physicist at University College London, means doing mathematics. “There is a simplicity and parsimony and symmetry to mathematics,” says Friston, “which, if you were treating it as a language, wins hands down over all other ways of describing the world.” From dolphins to slime moulds, organisms throughout the evolutionary tree seem to make sense of the world mathematically, deciphering its patterns and regularities in order to survive.
8-29-17 How gut bacteria may affect anxiety
How gut bacteria may affect anxiety
Tiny molecules could be key to microbes’ long-distance effect on the brain. Scientists may have identified the molecular operatives in the brain that help gut bacteria influence anxiety levels from afar. Tiny molecules in the brain may help gut bacteria hijack people’s emotions. Bacteria living in the human gut have strange influence over mood, depression and more, but it has been unclear exactly how belly-dwelling bacteria exercise remote control of the brain (SN: 4/2/16, p. 23). Now research in rodents suggests that gut microbes may alter the inventory of microRNAs — molecules that help keep cells in working order by managing protein production — in brain regions involved in controlling anxiety. The findings, reported online August 25 in Microbiome, could help scientists develop new treatments for some mental health problems. Mounting evidence indicates “that the way we think and feel might be able to be controlled by our gut microbiota,” says study coauthor Gerard Clarke, a psychiatrist at University College Cork in Ireland. For instance, the presence or absence of gut bacteria can influence whether a mouse exhibits anxiety-like behaviors, such as avoiding bright lights or open spaces.
8-29-17 Bones reveal what it was like to grow up dodo
Bones reveal what it was like to grow up dodo
Cutting into precious bone specimens gives clues to the extinct birds’ life and times. Mother and chick dodos, illustrated here, needed to eat well and get healthy before the stressful cyclone season, according to a new reconstruction of the extinct bird’s life. Now the first closeup look inside the long-gone birds’ bones is giving a glimpse into their lives, an international research team reports August 24 in Scientific Reports. Until now, almost nothing has been known about the basic biology of dodos, such as when they mated or how quickly they grew. Based on 22 bones from different birds and weather patterns on the island Mauritius where the birds lived, scientists worked out how bones change as birds grew up. With this information, the team proposes a month-by-month dodo to-do list. For August: Start breeding. That’s the end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, where Mauritius lies. Chicks would hatch in spring and grow in a rapid spurt before summer, proposes study coauthor Delphine Angst, a paleontologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Summer would have been the toughest season for dodos, the team says. Between about November and March, cyclones can rip across the island, uprooting plants, stripping leaves and fruit and disrupting food sources. During that time, the birds probably just about stopped growing, a lag that could explain periodic lines in bones where birds had deposited little new material. On top of those lag lines, some bones also show relatively little new growth before signs of molting. This pattern suggests that as summer was winding down in March, adults that had survived cyclone season started renewing their feathers. The fine new plumage should thus be ready in time for August flirtations.
8-28-17 Ancient mud documents the legacy of Rome’s lead pipes
Ancient mud documents the legacy of Rome’s lead pipes
Runoff from lead pipes like these in ancient Rome’s water system could help researchers track urban development. ust as modern cities struggle with lead pollution, so may have ancient Rome. And muddy waters preserved the city’s legacy of lead pipes, a new study suggests. Researchers examined lead levels in dirt drilled from two Roman harbor sites, Ostia and Portus, on the Tiber River. The samples spanned 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000. Up until around 200 B.C., harbor waters were pristine, but then contamination started to creep in. The most likely source of lead would have been runoff from pipes in the city’s water system. The timing supports the idea that before aqueducts went in around 300 B.C., Rome’s water system initially employed terra-cotta or wooden pipes that were replaced with lead ones at least a century later. The researchers also link the ups and downs of lead levels to the expansion of the pipe system around 33 B.C. and periods of neglect beginning around A.D. 250. The lead data could help fill in gaps in written and archaeological records of Rome’s infrastructure by serving as a proxy for urbanization, Hugo Delile of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and his colleagues write August 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
8-28-17 Why isn't there a cure for migraines?
Why isn't there a cure for migraines?
Migraines are mind-muddling nightmares. Why can't we stop them? A migraine is a headache in the same way a square is a rectangle. A migraine is technically a kind of headache — but the word headache in no way captures the intense agony of a migraine. A migraine is an entirely different beast, one that's nausea-inducing, vision-blurring, mind-muddling, limb-weakening, head-throbbing, and neck-stiffening. A headache is typically centered in your cranial region; a migraine is a horrible full-body experience. When I'm stuck at home with a migraine, it's not a day spent catching up on my Netflix queue, flipping through magazines, or playing around on Instagram. At best, I'm fitfully sleeping. At worst, I'm hunched over the toilet cradling my head in my palms. Most of the day is spent trying to prop my head up at the least painful possible angle, shifting an ice pack around to cover the portion of my head that throbs most at that particular moment, and praying that if I don't move around too much then maybe this time I can keep down a glass of water — and my migraine medicine. When a migraine strikes, it's pretty much impossible for me to form a coherent thought, let alone show up to work. I've lost numerous workdays this year to migraines, and statistics indicate I'm far from the only one: An estimated 90 percent of migraine sufferers can't "work or function normally" when they're experiencing a migraine, the Migraine Research Foundation reported. The Migraine Research Foundation also revealed that American workers miss a collective 113 million work days annually due to migraines, causing American employers to lose out on more than $13 billion a year. Migraines rank as the third "most prevalent illness in the world" and the sixth "most disabling." Worldwide, 1 billion people are affected by migraines.
8-28-17 Depression medications can have devastating side-effects. Are they worth it to be happy?
Depression medications can have devastating side-effects. Are they worth it to be happy?
When treating one ailment leads to another that's even worse! Even if you aren't aware of it, the chances are good that someone you know is taking some sort of psychiatric medicine. According to the most recent research, an estimated one in six adults in the U.S. have a prescription for antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, or some other drug to help them manage their mental health. And with those drugs, for many of those people, come the side effects — some of which can feel dire enough to become a problem in and of themselves, requiring a second treatment to offset the first. Many commonly prescribed antidepressants, in particular, can come with a host of side effects that can paradoxically contribute to depression. "Antidepressants saved my life and killed my orgasms," writer Sofia Barrett-Ibarria recently declared in Self magazine; problems with sex are common, as are struggles with weight. Auxiliary medications are often prescribed to mitigate the severe side effects of primary medications, but can come with their own, like tinnitus and digestion issues. The end result is that seeking treatment for mental illness is often a delicate tightrope walk toward health, one that forces patients to consider any number of trade-offs and carefully evaluate exactly what it means to live a good, happy life.
8-28-17 It only takes a few gene tweaks to make a human voice
It only takes a few gene tweaks to make a human voice
Our capacity for complex speech might come from tiny tweaks to existing monkey genes that gave us flatter faces and more refined larynxes. How and when did we first become able to speak? A new analysis of our DNA reveals key evolutionary changes that reshaped our faces and larynxes, and which may have set the stage for complex speech. The alterations were not major mutations in our genes. Instead, they were tweaks in the activity of existing genes that we shared with our immediate ancestors. These changes in gene activity seem to have given us flat faces, by retracting the protruding chins of our ape ancestors. They also resculpted the larynx and moved it further down in the throat, allowing our ancestors to make sounds with greater subtleties. The study offers an unprecedented glimpse into how our faces and vocal tracts were altered at the genetic level, paving the way for the sophisticated speech we take for granted. However, other anthropologists say changes in the brain were at least equally important. It is also possible that earlier ancestors could speak, but in a more crude way, and that the facial changes simply took things up a notch. Liran Carmel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his colleagues examined DNA from two modern-day people and four humans who lived within the last 50,000 years. They also looked at extinct hominins: two Neanderthals and a Denisovan. Finally, they looked at genetic material from six chimpanzees and data from public databases supplied by living people.
8-28-17 Stainless steel sinks may up your risk of legionnaires’ disease
Stainless steel sinks may up your risk of legionnaires’ disease
Over time, rust from pipes can degrade the protective coating on stainless steel fixtures, which may raise the risk of contracting legionnaires’ disease at home. A combination of rusty water and stainless steel taps, or faucets, can put people at risk of life-threatening legionnaires’ disease. It’s already known that rust particles in a water system, which can come from iron pipes, encourage the growth of Legionella bacteria. These bacteria cause legionnaires’ disease, which can involve headaches, muscle pain, fever and confusion. The condition has been on the rise in Europe: in 2015, there were 7000 known cases, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) thinks there may be many more that went unreported. Now it seems that the protective coating on stainless steel fixtures – currently a firm favourite for kitchen and bathroom sinks – can degrade over time, encouraging the growth of Legionella species. To better understand how the material of sinks can influence legionnaires’, Wilco van der Lugt, a safety engineer who contributed to European guidelines on preventing Legionella, and his team experimented with three kinds of tap commonly found in household water systems. The researchers tested stainless steel, brass ceramic, and brass thermostatic mixer taps, each with clean water and water contaminated with either Legionella anisa, which is the most common strain in rust in the Netherlands, or both rust and the microbe. The team monitored this set-up for more than three years.
8-28-17 How horses lost their toes
How horses lost their toes
Ancient equines had up to four toes, which they shed as their body size grew. The ancestral horse Hyracotherium roamed North America about 55 million years ago. It had four toes on its front feet and three on its back feet. Horses can leap over high hurdles, gallop at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour and haul around up to nearly 1,000 kilograms of body weight — and all with just one big toe on each foot. Now, a new study published August 23 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B helps explain why: Streamlined digits improved horses’ strength and speed. Along with zebras and donkeys, horses are among the few single-toed creatures in the animal kingdom. Scientists have long suspected that horses’ single, hoofed toes helped them run farther and faster over grasslands, letting them flee predators and find fresh forage. But the hypothesis that having one big toe is better than having several, biomechanically speaking, has never been directly tested. “This study takes an important step” toward resolving why horses shed digits during their early evolution, says Karen Sears, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana.
8-28-17 'Sea dragon' fossil is 'largest on record'
'Sea dragon' fossil is 'largest on record'
The fossil of a marine reptile ''re-discovered'' in a museum is the largest of its kind on record, say scientists. The ''sea dragon'' belongs to a group that swam the world's oceans 200 million years ago, while dinosaurs walked the land. The specimen is the largest Ichthyosaurus to be described, at more than three metres long. It was discovered on the coast of England more than 20 years ago, but has remained unstudied until now. Palaeontologist Sven Sachs saw the fossil on display at a museum in Hannover. He contacted UK palaeontologist, Dean Lomax, who is an expert on Ichthyosaurs. ''It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be 'rediscovered' in museum collections,'' said the University of Manchester palaeontologist. ''You don't necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.'' The reptile belongs to the species, Ichthyosaurus somersetensis, which is named after the county in south west England where many ancient marine reptile specimens have been unearthed. It was dug up at Doniford Bay, Somerset, in the 1990s and eventually found its way into the collections of the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hannover. The reptile was an adult female that was pregnant at the time of death. ''This specimen provides new insights into the size range of the species, but also records only the third example of an Ichthyosaurus known with an embryo,'' added Dean Lomax. ''That's special.''
8-27-17 Medieval London was the most violent place in England
Medieval London was the most violent place in England
A look at skulls from English cemeteries shows that young lower-class males in Medieval London enforced the rule of law with blows to the head. And you thought Game of Thrones was rough. Lower-class young men in medieval London were subjected to extreme levels of violence, far worse than other parts of medieval England. “It appears that violence in medieval London may have been largely tied to sex and social status,” says archaeologist Kathryn Krakowka at the University of Oxford. Krakowka analyzed 399 skulls from six London cemeteries dating from AD 1050 to 1550. Some were monastic cemeteries, which would have cost money and were more often used by the upper classes. Others were free parish cemeteries used by the lower classes. She found that 6.8 per cent of all skulls examined showed some kind of violence-related trauma. Males from 26 to 35 years old were particularly affected. About 25 per cent of the skull injuries occurred near the time of death, suggesting the people died from blows to their heads. High levels of violence are evident in cemeteries from other parts of medieval Europe such as Croatia, Krakowka says, which in one study showed a whopping 20.1 per cent of individuals had cranial fractures. But the London cemeteries she dug into had a violence rate roughly double that elsewhere in England. In a pair of cemeteries in York – also a major city at this time – only 2.4 and 3.6 per cent of skulls had fractures, respectively. What’s more, Krakowka found an effect that seemed to be associated with class. A much higher percentage of skulls in the lower-class parish cemeteries had signs of trauma compared with those in the monastic cemeteries.
8-26-17 Could being neurotic help you live longer?
Could being neurotic help you live longer?
When being worried pays off. some people, the word "neurotic" can conjure images of a certain type of psychotherapy: Woody Allen types splayed out on long divans, with Freudian therapists sitting coolly behind them, asking vague questions about Oedipal complexes. Psychology's come a long way since Freud, though, and today, this scenario feels a bit like an anachronism — and so, in some ways, does the term. In 1994, the condition of "neurosis" was dropped entirely from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychiatry's encyclopedia of mental disorders. Since then, it has been largely replaced by more specific terminologies, like social-anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. But neuroticism does live on in personality research, where it is considered one of the "Big Five" traits, along with openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion. And these days, neuroticism — which is tested by one's responses to statements like "I get irritated easily," "I worry about things," and "I get stressed out easily" — is enjoying a little bit of rebranding: Studies have shown that it can be potentially beneficial, leading to greater creativity, quicker cognitive processing, and increased motivation (that last one is due especially to neurotic people's keener sense of negative outcomes). And in a study published earlier this year in Psychological Science, a team of researchers went even further, arguing that, if the circumstances are just right, neurosis may be the personality trait that helps extend your life.
8-25-17 If you’re 35 or younger, your genes can predict whether the flu vaccine will work
If you’re 35 or younger, your genes can predict whether the flu vaccine will work
Researchers still searching for a similar genetic ‘crystal ball’ for older adults. A set of nine genes can signal whether a young adult will develop a strong response to the flu vaccine, a new study finds. A genetic “crystal ball” can predict whether certain people will respond effectively to the flu vaccine. Nine genes are associated with a strong immune response to the flu vaccine in those aged 35 and under, a new study finds. If these genes were highly active before vaccination, an individual would generate a high level of antibodies after vaccination, no matter the flu strain in the vaccine, researchers report online August 25 in Science Immunology. This response can help a person avoid getting the flu. The research team also tried to find a predictive set of genes in people aged 60 and above — a group that includes those more likely to develop serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia — but failed. Even so, the study is “a step in the right direction,” says Elias Haddad, an immunologist at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, who did not participate in the research. “It could have implications in terms of identifying responders versus nonresponders by doing a simple test before a vaccination.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that vaccination prevented 5.1 million flu illnesses in the 2015?2016 season. Getting a flu shot is the best way to stay healthy, but “the problem is, we don’t know what makes a successful vaccination,” says Purvesh Khatri, a computational immunologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “The immune system is very personal.”
8-25-17 America’s growing alcohol problem
America’s growing alcohol problem
Americans are drinking more alcohol in recent years than they did 15 years ago, with 12.6 percent of the population—30 million people—binge-drinking at least once a week, a new study has found. The study, which compared the drinking habits of 40,000 people in 2001–02 and in 2012–13, showed a big jump in the number of people who regularly engaged in “hazardous” drinking—downing four or more drinks for women, and five or more for men. Consuming that much alcohol is associated with a host of dangerous behaviors, including drunk driving and violence, and increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and neurological problems. The study also found that 12.7 percent of the population is alcoholic. Heavy drinking rose most sharply among women, blacks, and seniors. Deborah Hasin, an epidemiologist and author of the study, said a number of factors could be driving the rise of problem drinking. “Increasing numbers of people feel pessimistic about their economic chances,” she told NPR.com. Beverage makers, she said, have also learned to market alcohol products more effectively to women and young people, with ciders, various kinds of craft beers, and rosé wine. Health experts said the study is a reminder that alcohol abuse is more widespread than opioid addiction. “Alcohol,” said David Jernigan of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “is our No. 1 drug problem.”
8-25-17 The ‘fat but fit’ myth
The ‘fat but fit’ myth
The theory that you can be “fat but fit”—overweight or obese, yet still healthy—is flawed, a British study has concluded. Researchers analyzed the historical health data of more than half a million people from 10 European countries. They separated them into two groups: “metabolically” healthy and unhealthy, based on markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They then divided the subjects by body mass index, classifying them as normal weight, overweight, or obese. As expected, the metabolically unhealthy contingent had the highest risk for heart disease. But the overweight or obese people who were “metabolically healthy” were still about 28 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those with a healthy body weight. “Our study shows that people with excess weight who might be classed as ‘healthy’ haven’t yet developed an unhealthy metabolic profile,” researcher Ioanna Tzoulaki tells BBC.com. “That comes later.”
8-25-17 Mummy autopsy reveals earliest known case of liver parasite
Mummy autopsy reveals earliest known case of liver parasite
The mummified remains of a man who died in 1642 had a liver infection caught by eating raw shellfish, perhaps in the hope of curing measles. It might have been what the doctor ordered, but it didn’t do the patient much good. A 375-year-old mummified man discovered in South Korea had a parasitic liver infection caught by eating raw shellfish, which the man might have done on medical advice. Jing Lee died in 1642 at the age of 63 and was buried in what is now Cheongdo. His body was remarkably well preserved when archaeologists unearthed it in 2014. With permission from Jing Lee’s descendants, a team led by Min Seo at Dankook University College of Medicine, South Korea, CT-scanned the mummy. This revealed a strange lump on the man’s liver. The team removed the lump and found it contained golden-brown eggs, each roughly 85 micrometres long. They identified them as belonging to a parasitic fluke, Paragonimus westermani. That means Jing Lee was suffering from hepatic paragonimiasis when he died. He is the oldest known case, say Seo and her colleagues.
8-24-17 Male athletes with higher world rankings are better looking
Male athletes with higher world rankings are better looking
Male biathletes who achieved a higher world ranking were rated as more attractive, suggesting women have evolved to prefer men with endurance and skill. It seems you can judge an athlete by their face – if they are a man, that is. Male athletes with a higher world ranking tend to be judged as more attractive by women, but there is no such trend among women. Several studies have previously reported a link between facial attractiveness and sporting performance in men, leading to suggestions that women respond to facial cues that reflect athletic ability in potential partners. Some have suggested this is because, in our evolutionary past, women might have benefited from choosing a partner with speed, skill and endurance. As a better hunter, the idea goes, he would have brought home more food, and he might pass on his fitness to their children. But these studies have been criticised, notably for only looking at men. They also tended to focus on team sports, therefore failing to isolate individual performance. To find more evidence, Tim Fawcett and colleagues at the University of Exeter, UK, collected photos of 156 men and women who competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the biathlon – an event combining cross-country skiing and shooting. Each athlete was rated for their facial attractiveness by members of the opposite sex, who didn’t know the purpose of the study. Sporting performance was measured by looking at the highest world ranking the athlete had achieved in their career.
8-24-17 Eat a seasonal diet and your gut microbes may change in sync
Eat a seasonal diet and your gut microbes may change in sync
The types of gut bacteria in Hadza hunter-gatherers vary with the seasons, suggesting that this may also happen in anyone who eats mainly seasonal produce. The microbes living in our gut could vary with the seasons, according to evidence from one of the few remaining groups of hunter-gatherers. Jeff Leach at the Human Food Project, a non-profit looking at the role of the microbiome in health, and his team spent more than a year collecting stool samples from 350 Hadza people, living in Tanzania. They found that the Hadza gut microbiome is about 30 per cent more diverse than what we find in the residents of Western nations. In fact, the Hadza’s gut flora is about as diverse as that of some Yanomami people in Venezuela, previously described as having the world’s most diverse microbiome. The diversity in both groups isn’t that surprising, given that they hardly, if ever, consume antibiotics and processed food. But Leach’s team also discovered that the Hadza microbiome is seasonal, changing in a cycle throughout the year. Diversity peaks in the dry season, when Prevotella species become particularly abundant, and the bacteria that showed the greatest annual fluctuations generally tended to be strains not present in the gut of people with Western lifestyles. These annual changes in the gut microbiome are probably caused by cyclical shifts in the Hadza diet. During Tanzania’s dry season, the Hadza eat a lot of meat plus tubers and fruit from the baobab tree, but in the wet season they eat more honey and berries. Prevotella species are particularly good at breaking down plant material, so may be particularly useful during the dry season.
8-24-17 Will Google’s targeted depression tests really help people?
Will Google’s targeted depression tests really help people?
Google has announced plans to offer people searching for the word "depression" a validated questionnaire for the condition. But will finding your results be any help? When you search for a medical condition online, would you also want to take a test for it then and there? Google has announced plans to offer people in the US searching for “depression” a clinically validated questionnaire so they can find out if they may have the condition. But then what? “This sounds like a really good idea that can quickly help people work out whether they are having low moods or feeling blue, [or if they] may have more serious and enduring problems that could be alleviated by seeking help,” says Marjorie Wallace, of the UK mental health charity SANE. “Our concern [however] is that raising expectations of help can be disappointing.” In places where access to therapy is hard to come by, a questionnaire may offer little comfort. Google has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – a US advocacy group for those affected by mental illness – to provide a link to a depression questionnaire at the top of the search results for terms related to depression. In an announcement posted on Google’s blog, NAMI states that the results of the self-assessment can form the first step towards a diagnosis, and help people have a more informed conversation with their doctor.
8-24-17 ‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments
‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments
Breeding pigeons, growing orchids and other hands-on work provided evidence for the theory of evolution. Down House, Charles Darwin’s country estate, was the scene of many homespun experiments that provided evidence for the naturalist’s theory of evolution, as described in a new book. The story of how Charles Darwin’s trip around the world on the HMS Beagle inspired his ideas about evolution is well-known. Less familiar, however, may be the decades of detailed research that he conducted after that 1830s voyage. As biologist James Costa chronicles in Darwin’s Backyard, many of those studies took place at Down House, Darwin’s country home southeast of London. The estate’s relative isolation enabled Darwin to conduct in-depth anatomical analyses of everything from barnacles to birds. Darwin supplemented that work with hands-on experiments. He bred and raised 16 varieties of pigeons, trying to show that the fancy types preferred by breeders had developed from only a few ancestral wild types. In his gardens, Darwin laid out intricate plots where he studied the diversity and growth of grasses and weeds, as well as how earthworms churn the soil. On nearby hillsides, he investigated orchid pollination and reproduction. (Not all of his experiments were successful: One year, cows ate and trampled his orchids.) Some experiments were considered quirky by 19th century standards, but the work provided data supporting Darwin’s notions about trait variability in a population and how natural selection drives changes in populations over time.
8-24-17 Secret life of the dodo revealed
Secret life of the dodo revealed
Scientists are piecing together clues about the life of the dodo, hundreds of years after the flightless bird was driven to extinction. Few scientific facts are known about the hapless bird, which was last sighted in 1662. A study of bone specimens shows the chicks hatched in August and grew rapidly to adult size. The bird shed its feathers in March revealing fluffy grey plumage recorded in historical accounts by mariners. Delphine Angst of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, was given access to some of the dodo bones that still exist in museums and collections, including specimens that were recently donated to a museum in France. Her team analysed slices of bone from 22 dodos under the microscope to find out more about the bird's growth and breeding patterns. "Before our study we knew very very little about these birds," said Dr Angst. "Using the bone histology for the first time we managed to describe that this bird was actually breeding at a certain time of the year and was moulting just after that."
8-24-17 Nitty-gritty of Homo naledi’s diet revealed in its teeth
Nitty-gritty of Homo naledi’s diet revealed in its teeth
Lots of chipped enamel suggests the food of the ancient humanlike species came à la dirt. Tooth damage sustained by Homo naledi, an ancient South African humanlike species, resulted from a diet heavy on hard or gritty objects, researchers say. One likely chip culprit: dirt-covered, nutritious underground plants such as tubers. Give Homo naledi credit for originality. The fossils of this humanlike species previously revealed an unexpectedly peculiar body plan. Now its pockmarked teeth speak to an unusually hard-edged diet. H. naledi displays a much higher rate of chipped teeth than other members of the human evolutionary family that once occupied the same region of South Africa, say biological anthropologist Ian Towle and colleagues. Dental damage of this kind results from frequent biting and chewing on hard or gritty objects, such as raw tubers dug out of the ground, the scientists report in the September American Journal of Physical Anthropology. “A diet containing hard and resistant foods like nuts and seeds, or contaminants such as grit, is most likely for H. naledi,” says Towle, of Liverpool John Moores University in England. Extensive tooth chipping shows that “something unusual is going on” with H. naledi’s diet, says paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He directs ongoing microscopic studies of H. naledi’s teeth that may provide clues to what this novel species ate.
8-24-17 Stressed out GCSE kids need more mental health help
Stressed out GCSE kids need more mental health help
Teaching teens about mental health is welcome amid exam and social pressures, but the wider rise of childhood disorders demands much more, says Sarah Brennan. As teenagers across much of the UK get their GCSE exam results, there is an acute sense that the pressure on them to succeed from a young age has been growing. That is perhaps one reason we are in the midst of a mental health crisis in our schools. This is why the announcement that 100,000 teenagers in England and Wales will get extra guidance on this aspect of their wellbeing is extremely welcome. Prime Minister Theresa May pledged last week that teenagers will take part in an awareness course as part of the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme for 15 to 17 year olds, a community-based push to improve life skills. Teaching young people about mental health is a vital step for them to learn to talk about what they are feeling and in building resilience. These are the tools we all need to help us cope with the stresses and strains of normal life. But given the scale of the problem – an estimated three children in every class have a mental health condition – is this enough? It is clear that the UK’s child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have been chronically underfunded. Along with the cuts to early intervention community services, this has raised barriers to accessing treatment, such as long waits for referrals. At YoungMinds, the charity I head, we often receive calls from parents whose children have been turned away from services or asked to wait many months for treatment when a timely intervention is necessary.
8-24-17 Secret lifestyle of the dodo revealed for the first time
Secret lifestyle of the dodo revealed for the first time
A study of dodo bones has revealed how the legendary birds matured, bred and moulted, and explains discrepancies in sailors’ descriptions of them. EXTINCT it may be, but the iconic dodo has bounced back from the grave to reveal hitherto-unknown secrets of its lifestyle. For the first time, researchers have pieced together the complete life cycle of these legendary birds. Dodos were large flightless pigeons that lived on the island of Mauritius, often in swamps and caves. They were wiped out within 100 years after European sailors reached and colonised Mauritius in the sixteenth century. “We know so little about these birds that everything was basically a surprise,” says study leader Delphine Angst of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Angst found that the dodo’s life cycle evolved to suit the seasonal weather cycles on Mauritius. The challenge was to survive the harsh weather and food shortages of the austral summer, between November and March. Once through the bad times, the birds began shedding and replacing damaged feathers. “By July, they would have completely new plumage and the next reproduction cycle starts,” says Angst. In August, females began ovulating and laid eggs that hatched in September, allowing the young hatchlings to rapidly grow large enough to survive the next austral summer. Today, there is no longer a clear consensus on how long hominins have walked the earth. Many are sticking with the old assumption, but others are willing to consider the possibility that our lineage is almost twice as old, implying there are plenty of missing chapters to our story still waiting to be uncovered.
8-23-17 Who are you? How the story of human origins is being rewritten
Who are you? How the story of human origins is being rewritten
The past 15 years have called into question every assumption about who we are and where we came from. Turns out our evolution is more baffling than we thought. WHO do you think you are? A modern human, descended from a long line of Homo sapiens? A distant relative of those great adventure-seekers who marched out of the cradle of humanity, in Africa, 60,000 years ago? Do you believe that human brains have been getting steadily bigger for millions of years, culminating in the extraordinary machine between your ears? Think again, because over the past 15 years, almost every part of our story, every assumption about who our ancestors were and where we came from, has been called into question. The new insights have some unsettling implications for how long we have walked the earth, and even who we really are. Once upon a time, the human story seemed relatively straightforward (see blue text in timeline, below). It began roughly 5.5 to 6.5 million years ago, somewhere in an east African forest, with a chimpanzee-like ape. Some of its descendants would eventually evolve into modern chimps and bonobos. Others left the forest for the savannah. They learned to walk on two legs and, in doing so, launched our own hominin lineage. By about 4 million years ago, the bipedal apes had given rise to a successful but still primitive group called the australopiths, thought to be our direct ancestors. The most famous of them, dubbed Lucy, was discovered in the mid-1970s and given arch-grandmother status. By 2 million years ago, some of her descendants had grown larger brains and longer legs to become the earliest “true” human species. Homo erectus used its long legs to march out of Africa. Other humans continued to evolve larger brains in an apparently inexorable fashion, with new waves of bigger-brained species migrating out of Africa over the next million years or so, eventually giving rise to the Neanderthals of Eurasia. Ultimately, however, those early migrant lines were all dead ends. The biggest brains of all evolved in those hominins who stayed in Africa, and they were the ones who gave rise to Homo sapiens. (Webmaster's comment: Very much worth reading!)
8-23-17 Doing meth raises the risk of strokes in young people
Doing meth raises the risk of strokes in young people
Strokes aren’t common under the age of 45, but people who use methamphetamine are almost five times more likely to have a type of stroke that can be fatal. People who use methamphetamine are almost five times more likely to have a stroke caused by a bleed in the brain, many of which are fatal. “We can add stroke to the list of terrible and devastating things that methamphetamine does,” says Damian Zuloaga, of the University at Albany, New York. Beyond the signature tooth decay known as “meth mouth”, methamphetamine also increases heart rate and blood pressure, and can trigger heart attacks. The drug can lead to psychosis, and has been linked to anxiety disorders, depression, and problems with movement similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease. A handful of studies have also linked methamphetamine use to strokes. To explore further, Julia Lappin and her colleagues at the Australian National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney sifted through published research on the topic. The team specifically looked for research into people under the age of 45 – a group less likely to be affected by age-related causes of stroke. They assessed the results of 77 studies in total. Most of these studies were conducted in the US, where, in 2012, around 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine in the past year.
8-23-17 IBM to investigate role of microbiome in autoimmune disorders
IBM to investigate role of microbiome in autoimmune disorders
A project launched by tech firm IBM plans to analyse millions of bacterial genes, in an effort to understand what causes type 1 diabetes and Crohn's disease. IBM has announced plans to study the human microbiome and its role in autoimmune diseases. We still don’t fully understand how the bacteria inside us affect our health. IBM plans to find out more by analysing millions of bacterial genes, starting with those belonging to gut microbes. The hope is that this could shed light on type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. To speed up the project, IBM is crowdsourcing extra computing power, asking anyone with a desktop computer to help. Researchers from several US universities will oversee the analysis, with the goal of finding new ways to prevent or treat autoimmune disease. IBM isn’t the only technology firm setting its sights on the microbiome. In April, Google’s health spin-off Verily launched a project aiming to collect genetic and microbiome data from 10,000 people in the US. Their aim is to better predict the onset of conditions like cancer and heart disease.
8-23-17 Lithium in tap water seems to both raise and lower dementia risk
Lithium in tap water seems to both raise and lower dementia risk
A study has found that high levels of lithium in drinking water is linked to a lower dementia risk – but medium levels are linked to a raised risk. Higher natural levels of lithium in drinking water may protect against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to a study of more than 800,000 people in Denmark – but only at certain concentrations. Lars Vedel Kessing, of the University of Copenhagen, and his team tested water samples from 151 waterworks in Denmark, and calculated the levels of lithium exposure for nearly 74,000 people with dementia, and more than 733,000 healthy people. Their findings were surprising. While the highest concentrations of lithium were linked to a decreased risk of dementia, medium concentrations were linked to a higher risk. Compared with people whose drinking water contained two to five micrograms of lithium per litre, people who consumed between 5.1 and 10 micrograms per litre were 22 per cent more likely to have dementia, while people who had 15 micrograms per litre or more were 17 per cent less likely to have the condition.
8-23-17 This ancient sea worm sported a crowd of ‘claws’ around its mouth
This ancient sea worm sported a crowd of ‘claws’ around its mouth
Newly discovered animal had about double the number of spikes as its modern counterparts. An ancient arrow worm (illustrated) had about 50 spines protruding from its face to help it capture prey. Predatory sea worms just aren’t as spiny as they used to be. These arrow worms, which make up the phylum Chaetognatha, snatch prey with Wolverine-like claws protruding from around their mouths. Researchers now report that a newly identified species of ancient arrow worm was especially heavily armed. Dubbed Capinatator praetermissus, the predator had about 50 curved head spines, more than twice as many as most of its modern relatives. Arranged in two crescents, the spines could snap shut like a Venus flytrap to catch small invertebrates. More than 100 species of chaetognaths are alive today, but evidence of their ancient relatives is spotty. C. praetermissus lived a little more than 500 million years ago during the Cambrian Period and was identified from 49 specimens found in the fossil-rich Burgess Shale in British Columbia, the scientists report in the Aug. 21 Current Biology. Often, only arrow worms’ clawlike spines appear in the fossil record, without soft tissue. But many of the new finds had such tissue preserved, which provided clues to body size and shape.
8-23-17 Seeing one picture at a time helps kids learn words from books
Seeing one picture at a time helps kids learn words from books
Psychologist Jessica Horst and colleague Zoe Flack, both of the University of Sussex in England, read stories to 36 3½-year-olds. These were specially designed storybooks, with pages as big as printer paper. And sprinkled into the text and reflected in the illustrations were a few nonsense words: An inverted, orange and yellow slingshot that mixed things, called a tannin, and a metal wheel used like a rolling pin, called a sprock. The researchers wanted to know under which reading conditions kids would best pick up the meaning of the nonsense words. In some tests, a researcher read the storybook that showed two distinct pictures at a time. In other tests, only one picture was shown at a time. Later, the kids were asked to point to the “sprock,” which was shown in a separate booklet among other unfamiliar objects. Kids who saw just one picture at a time were more likely to point to the sprock when they saw it again, the researchers found. The results, published June 30 in Infant and Child Development, show how important pictures can be for preliterate kids, says Horst.
8-23-17 Magic mushroom chemical may be a hallucinogenic insect repellent
Magic mushroom chemical may be a hallucinogenic insect repellent
These fungi influence our brains by producing a compound called psilocybin, but the origin of this chemical may have little to do with discovering fundamental truth. The hallucinogenic effects of magic mushrooms are well documented. But nobody knows what psilocybin, the chemical responsible, does for the mushrooms themselves. Now, one of the first genomic analyses of hallucinogenic fungi has deciphered psilocybin production, and even suggested a function for it. By messing with insect neurochemistry, psilocybin may act as a psychedelic repellent. A team of researchers led by Jason Slot at Ohio State University compared the genomes of three hallucinogenic fungi with three non-hallucinogenic relatives. By doing so, they identified the cluster of genes responsible for making psilocybin (bioRxiv, doi.org/cbx2). The gene cluster is found in several distantly related groups, suggesting that the fungi swapped genes in a process called horizontal gene transfer. This is uncommon in mushrooms: it is the first time genes for a compound that is not necessary for the fungi’s survival – called a secondary metabolite – have been found moving between mushroom lineages.
8-22-17 Newborn babies already have a sense of how numbers work
Newborn babies already have a sense of how numbers work
Do you think of smaller numbers being on the left of larger ones? Even two-day-old babies may think this way, suggesting we’re born with mental number lines. Newborn babies seem to have a rudimentary sense of numbers, preferring smaller numbers on the left and larger ones on the right. The finding suggests that this left-to-right mental number line might be innate for humans. We visualise most of our thoughts in space. “Anything you want to remember that has a sense of order – be it days of the week or musical tones – you tend to map that to a spatial continuum,” says Koleen McCrink at Barnard College, New York. The same is true for numbers. In Western cultures, people tend to think of numbers increasing in value along a mental number line from left to right, while people who speak Arabic and Hebrew picture numbers running in the opposite direction. To see if number lines are innate, or determined by language and culture, Rosa Rugani at the University of Padua, Italy, and her colleagues looked for mental number lines in newborn babies between 12 and 117 hours old. The average age of the babies was just 55 hours. Rugani’s team showed each of the babies a series of images in which white squares contained a number of smaller black squares. Half the time, the babies were shown two white squares each containing four black squares, side by side. The rest of the time, the babies were shown two white squares that contained 36 black squares. An eye-tracker device that monitored where the babies were looking revealed that babies looked towards the left more when shown the smaller number of black squares, and towards the right more when shown the larger number of black squares.
8-22-17 Scanning your brain can predict what will happen in the future
Scanning your brain can predict what will happen in the future
Can neuroforecasting predict the next election result or market crash? Analysing activity in a part of our brain can predict things that haven’t happened yet. Our brains seem better at predictions than we are. A part of our brain becomes active when it knows something will be successfully crowdfunded, even if we consciously decide otherwise. If this finding stands up and works in other areas of life, neuroforecasting may lead to better voting polls or even predict changes in financial markets. To see if one can predict market behaviour by sampling a small number of people, Brian Knutson at Stanford University in California and his team scanned the brains of 30 people while they decided whether to fund 36 projects from the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The projects were all recently posted proposals for documentary films. Each participant had their brain scanned while taking in the pictures and descriptions of each campaign, and they were then asked if they would want to fund the project. When the real Kickstarter campaigns ended a few weeks later, 18 of the projects had gained enough funding to go forward. Examining the participants’ brain scans, the team discovered that activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens had been different when they considered projects that later went on to be successful.
8-22-17 Some secrets of China’s terra-cotta army are baked in the clay
Some secrets of China’s terra-cotta army are baked in the clay
Craftsmen used local materials and signature ceramic recipes to shape the warriors and their entourage. Terra-cotta warriors, built more than 2,200 years ago, stand in the tomb of China’s first emperor. Distributing different clay pastes to specialized workshops enabled the production of so many finely crafted statues, researchers propose. China’s first emperor broke the mold when he had himself buried with a terra-cotta army. Now insight into the careful crafting of those soldiers is coming from the clays used to build them. Custom clay pastes were mixed at a clay-making center and then distributed to specialized workshops that cranked out thousands of the life-size figures, new research suggests. Roughly 700,000 craftsmen and laborers built Emperor Qin Shihuang’s palatial mausoleum in east-central China between 247 B.C. and 210 B.C. A portion of those workers gathered clay from nearby deposits and prepared it in at least three forms, researchers propose in the August Antiquity. On-site or nearby workshops used different signature clay recipes for terra-cotta warriors, parts of mostly bronze waterfowl figures and paving bricks for pits in which the soldiers originally stood. Around 7,000 ceramic foot soldiers, generals and horses — equipped with a variety of bronze weapons — make up the army, which was accidentally discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The emperor would have regarded the ceramic statues as a magic army that would protect him as he ruled in the afterlife, many researchers suspect.
8-21-17 Antarctic mystery microbe could tell us where viruses came from
Antarctic mystery microbe could tell us where viruses came from
Viruses are not like other organisms and nobody is quite sure where they originated, but a newly discovered single-celled organism seems to offer a clue. A peculiar Antarctic microbe may offer a clue to one of the biggest mysteries in evolution: the origin of viruses. The microorganism is host to a fragment of DNA that can build a capsule around itself. It may help solve the mystery of how viruses first arose. Viruses are not like other life forms. Arguably, they are not alive at all. All other living things are made of cells: squashy bags filled with the other essential molecules of life. Cells are intricate machines that can feed and reproduce independently. Viruses are much simpler. A typical virus is a small piece of genetic material encased in a shell called a capsid. On its own, a virus can do little. But if it enters a living cell, it starts making copies of itself. Viruses often harm their hosts: for instance, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can cause AIDS when it infects a person. Biologists have puzzled for decades about where viruses come from. Are they an older, simpler form of life – or are they parasites that arose only once cells had evolved?
8-19-17 Is freelancing bad for your mental health?
Is freelancing bad for your mental health?
In a 2005 study published in the journal Work and Stress, a team of researchers examined the self-reported health of freelancers using an effort-reward imbalance model (essentially a scientifically verifiable cost-benefit analysis). Developed in 1996 by study co-author Johannes Siegrist, a senior professor at the University of Dusseldorf, the model took both extrinsic and intrinsic factors into account. The former encapsulated external experiences like client demands and compensation, while the latter examined freelancers' commitment to work, characterized by an "inability to withdraw from work, thinking about it day and night," Siegrist says. What the team discovered was alarming. Lead author Michael Ertel, a researcher at Germany's Federal Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, explains that poor subjective health was reported by 37 percent of the German freelancers who participated. The study also "found a more specific pattern of health problems in freelancers: chronic strain and a reduced ability to relax," as a result of long working hours in conjunction with an unpredictable workload, he says. To this day, subsequent studies have only added to their findings. Just this past April, a Swiss study explored the mental health of people working in "non-standard employment" conditions; researchers identified high job insecurity and financial difficulties as the most common stressors, and tied them to "sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, a high prevalence of antidepressant drug use, and 'presenteeism,'" a term for continuing to work in the face of illness or other factors that warrant a break.
8-18-17 Can’t stop procrastinating? Try cognitive behaviour therapy
Can’t stop procrastinating? Try cognitive behaviour therapy
Do you find yourself doing absolutely any task other than the one at the top of your to-do list? There might now be a way to treat procrastination. Ever find yourself doing just about any other task to avoid doing something more urgent or important? Cognitive behavioural therapy may help. “Everybody procrastinates,” says Alexander Rozental at Stockholm University in Sweden. “It’s an everyday phenomenon. Usually it doesn’t cause more than annoyance and frustration.” But people who regularly procrastinate often say it affects their lives, and can make them feel anxiety, guilt and shame. Putting off going to bed can, unsurprisingly, lead to not getting enough sleep. “And procrastination can affect your health if you put off exercise or going to the doctor,” says Rozental. Because procrastination isn’t recognised as a clinical disorder, there is no established treatment. Rozental and his colleagues have been exploring whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help. CBT aims to change problematic behaviours and replace them with more useful ones. This has been shown to work for treating some mental health disorders, such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, by teaching people how to control their breathing and deal with anxiety, for example. To develop CBT for procrastination, Rozental’s team focused on behaviours like setting goals, removing distractions and rewarding successes. The team identified procrastinators by asking student volunteers to fill in a questionnaire that assigns people a procrastination score, on a scale of 1 to 60. The average person had a score of 30, so the team tried their CBT only on people with a score of 40 or higher.
8-18-17 Genetic test helps people avoid statins that may cause them pain
Genetic test helps people avoid statins that may cause them pain
Many people who take statins ditch them due to painful side effects. But genetic testing can help choose the right drug, minimising this risk. Should you take statins? The common drugs are a safe and effective way to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease, but many of those taking them give up due to painful side effects. Furthermore, in some people, this pain may be caused by the nocebo effect, rather than the drug itself. But genetic screening could help reduce side effects and reassure people they are unlikely to feel any pain, encouraging more people to take statins. Deepak Voora of Duke University, North Carolina, and his colleagues have been researching a gene associated with muscle pain in people taking statins. The gene encodes a protein that carries drugs into liver cells. A variant of this gene has been linked to aches in response to statins. To find out if this variant affects what side effects someone experiences from different statins, Voora and his team reanalysed data from a clinical trial that had randomly assigned three types of this drug. They found that people with the gene variant had the highest risk of side effects when they were given a statin called simvastatin, but this risk was much lower when they took pravastatin. The researchers then ran a trial in 159 people to see if genetic screening could help prescribe the most appropriate statin for each person. All the participants had previously stopped taking statins due to muscle pain.
8-17-17 Stem cell technique could reverse a major type of infertility
Stem cell technique could reverse a major type of infertility
Men with extra sex chromosomes can have difficulty producing fertile sperm. Now researchers have got around this in mice by making stem cells from their skin. Turning skin cells into sperm may one day help some infertile men have babies. Research in mice has found a way to make fertile sperm from animals born with too many sex chromosomes. Most men have two sex chromosomes – one X and one Y – but some have three, which makes it difficult to produce fertile sperm. Around 1 in 500 men are born with Klinefelter syndrome, caused by having an extra X chromosome, while roughly 1 in 1000 have Double Y syndrome. James Turner of the Francis Crick Institute in London and his team have found a way to get around the infertility caused by these extra chromosomes. First, they bred mice that each had an extra X or Y chromosome. They then tried to reprogram skin cells from the animals, turning them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are capable of forming other types of cell. To their surprise, this was enough to make around a third of the skin cells jettison their extra chromosome. When these cells were then coaxed into forming sperm cells and used to fertilise eggs, 50 to 60 per cent of the resulting pregnancies led to live births. This suggests that a similar technique might enable men with Klinefelter or Double Y-related infertility to conceive. But there is a significant catch.
8-17-17 Culture not biology is behind many differences between the sexes
Culture not biology is behind many differences between the sexes
It is becoming ever clearer that environment and culture may be determining traits we think are down to male or female biology, says neuroscientist Gina Rippon. These are interesting times for those who are curious about evolutionary processes and their role in human characteristics, especially differences between the sexes. So far, there has been a firmly established “biology is destiny” mantra ringing down through the centuries. It has been a central tenet of traditional evolutionary explanations that differences in behavioural traits between men and women have fixed biological foundations (hence their inter-generational stability). Allegedly, these traits “hold fast” in the face of external pressures, only shifting eventually after very long periods of consistent environmental influence. This biological stability was supposedly reflected in the consistency of male/female differences down the ages. This notion of biology as holding fast against prolonged environmental pressure is crumbling; this year there were reports of “big-headed” geckos on artificial islands in Brazil adapting to the change in their environment within 15 years. The relevance of social and cultural context was demonstrated by a recent paper showing that the differences in cognitive abilities between men and women in 26 countries varied as a function of the country’s attitude to gender roles. And now we have a paper discussing how the respective roles of biology and environment as sources of stability and variability might be reversed when it comes to the evolutionary processes that determine sex/gender differences.
8-17-17 Vitamin C helps genes to kill off cells that would cause cancer
Vitamin C helps genes to kill off cells that would cause cancer
Many blood cancers are caused by mutations in the protective TET2 gene, but vitamin C may enhance drug treatments by helping to tell out-of-control cells to stop dividing. Injections of vitamin C could be a way to help fight blood cancer. Experiments in mice suggest that the nutrient helps tell out-of-control cells to stop dividing and die. Some blood cancers, including acute and chronic leukaemia, often involve mutations affecting a gene called TET2. This gene usually helps ensure that a type of stem cell matures properly to make white blood cells, and then eventually dies. But when TET2 mutates, these cells can start dividing uncontrollably, leading to cancer. Mutations in TET2 are involved in around 42,500 cancers in the US a year. Luisa Cimmino and Benjamin Neel at the New York University School of Medicine and their colleagues have genetically engineered mice to have variable TET2 function. They found that a 50 per cent reduction in TET2 activity can be enough to induce cancer, but that TET2 activity needs to remain low if the disease is to continue developing. “If we genetically restore TET2, it blocks unhealthy replication and kills the cells,” says Cimmino. Next, the team turned to vitamin C, because it is known to have an effect in embryonic stem cells, where it can activate TET2 and help keep cell replication in check.
8-17-17 Embryos kill off male tissue to become female
Embryos kill off male tissue to become female
A study in mice identifies a protein crucial to developing as a girl. A normal female mouse embryo has only female reproductive tissue, called the Müllerian duct. Removing a protein called COUP-TFII causes a female mouse embryo to develop both the female duct and male tissue called the Wolffian duct. Add a new ingredient to the sugar, spice and everything nice needed to make girls. A protein called COUP-TFII is necessary to eliminate male reproductive tissue from female mouse embryos, researchers report in the Aug. 18 Science. For decades, females have been considered the “default” sex in mammals. The new research overturns that idea, showing that making female reproductive organs is an active process that involves dismantling a primitive male tissue called the Wolffian duct. In males, the Wolffian duct develops into the parts needed to ejaculate sperm, including the epididymis, vas deferens and seminal vesicles. In females, a similar embryonic tissue called the Müllerian duct develops into the fallopian tubes, uterus and vagina. Both duct tissues are present in early embryos.
8-17-17 How an itch hitches a ride to the brain
How an itch hitches a ride to the brain
Area in the brain stem acts as a relay station between spinal cord and yet-unknown destination for prickly sensations. Scientists reveal how the spinal cord communicates the discomfort of itchy bug bites to the brain. Scientists have traced the sensation of itch to a place you can’t scratch. The discomfort of a mosquito bite or an allergic reaction activates itch-sensitive nerve cells in the spinal cord. Those neurons talk to a structure near the base of the brain called the parabrachial nucleus, researchers report in the Aug. 18 Science. It’s a region that’s known to receive information about other sensations, such as pain and taste. The discovery gets researchers one step closer to finding out where itch signals ultimately end up. “The parabrachial nucleus is just the first relay center for [itch signals] going into the brain,” says study coauthor Yan-Gang Sun, a neuroscientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai. Understanding the way these signals are processed by the brain could someday provide relief for people with chronic itch, Sun says. While the temporary itchiness of a bug bite is annoying, longer term, “uncontrollable scratching behavior can cause serious skin damage.”
8-17-17 The algae that terraformed Earth
The algae that terraformed Earth
A planetary takeover by ocean-dwelling algae 650 million years ago was the kick that transformed life on Earth. That's what geochemists argue in Nature this week, on the basis of invisibly small traces of biomolecules dug up from beneath the Australian desert. The molecules mark an explosion in the quantity of algae in the oceans. This in turn fuelled a change in the food web that allowed the first microscopic animals to evolve, the authors suggest. "This is one the most profound ecological and evolutionary transitions in Earth's history," lead researcher Jochen Brocks told the BBC's Science in Action programme. The events took place a hundred million years before the so-called Cambrian Explosion, an eruption of complex life recorded in fossils around the world that puzzled Darwin and always hinted at some kind of biological prehistory. Scattered traces of those precursor multi-celled organisms have since been recognised, but the evolutionary driver that led to their rise has been much argued over. Cambridge University palaeontologist Nick Butterfield has said the period "was arguably the most revolutionary in Earth history", and not just because of the rapid biological changes. There were violent swings in climate, too, that experts have long suspected are intertwined. The context was a planet that previously had long had life-sustaining oceans and a benign climate. Yet, for over three billion years - since 3.8 billion years before present according to most estimates - all life was single-celled, mostly bacteria; little evolutionary innovation had happened. Algae, more complex than bacteria but still single-celled, had themselves had been around for over a billion years (the "boring billion" some palaeontologists call it), but without making much of an ecological impact.
8-17-17 Seven ways to tame your wandering mind and achieve better focus
Seven ways to tame your wandering mind and achieve better focus
Trying to focus but keep getting distracted? From mind-wandering to doodling, the simplest ways to stay on track are not what you expect. Mind wandering has long been thought of as the enemy of concentration, but that’s not always true – the right kind of daydreaming can actually help you focus (see “How to daydream your way to better learning and concentration”). Read on to discover how to take control of your wandering mind, and other simple ways to stay sharp when deadlines are looming.
- Give your mind more to do
- Bribe yourself
- Test yourself
- Daydream during breaks
- Get some zeds
8-17-17 Why adding a drop of water can make whisky taste even better
Why adding a drop of water can make whisky taste even better
Scotch aficionados know that adding a little water to their dram can bring out the flavours – now we have glimpsed more of the chemistry behind it. The traditional way to savour scotch whisky is to add a dribble of water before sipping. Pub lore says that it makes the flavour pop, and experiments confirmed it and told us why. Now, chemists have duplicated that result without resorting to complicated apparatus, and their findings could tell us how certain types of drugs move through the body. Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman at Linnaeus University in Sweden used a computer simulation to model how the ethanol molecules in whisky interact with water. To capture the molecular motion precisely, they simulated the mixing using tiny time steps, equivalent to half a trillion frames per second. Then, they added a single molecule called guaiacol, which provides some of scotch’s distinctive smoky and bitter flavour. They found that when liquor is at or above 40 percent alcohol by volume, guaiacol molecules tend to stay in the body of the liquid, away from the surface. But when the researchers diluted the simulated whisky to about 25 percent alcohol, the guaiacol floated to the top and wafted its smoky scent and taste front and center. “We found a result that supports the claims for diluting whisky,” says Karlsson. The researchers now hope to figure out how drugs containing a similar mix of molecules behave inside the body. Some cough medicine, for instance, contains guaiacol, water and glycerol, another alcohol molecule.
8-16-17 Netflix vegan hit What the Health serves up lots of bad science
Netflix vegan hit What the Health serves up lots of bad science
Campaigning vegans will change nothing if they embrace bad science and conspiracy theories when making the health case for their diet, says Anthony Warner. I recently found myself in a room with a spokesperson for a large vegan advocacy organisation and found that we had something surprising in common. We had both experienced online abuse from vegan activists after media appearances. The vitriol aimed at me is perhaps understandable; I have publicly criticised those activists for militantly shaming and judging other people’s food choices, after which they ironically line up to militantly tell me how mistaken I am. The vegan spokesperson receives similar levels of ire, often from the same individuals, keen to inform her that her statements aren’t vegan enough. She laughed this off as a consequence of representing a passionate community, but I could see the upset in her eyes. These attacks can cause real damage, and should never be taken lightly. Food inspires strong beliefs. In our secular age, many modern tribes signal their status through diet rather than religious faith, with restrictions on what we eat a particularly potent identifier. Vegans are a particularly vociferous modern tribe. The passions of many can run hot, and it can make them believe some curious things. The recent Netflix film What the Health is a case in point. A thinly disguised piece of vegan propaganda, it bombards the viewer with a stream of misinformation and bad or outdated science; equating eating one egg with smoking five cigarettes is one example.
8-16-17 Speedy test for Lyme disease could help us treat it in time
Speedy test for Lyme disease could help us treat it in time
Lyme disease needs to be treated quickly, but it can be hard to tell it apart from other conditions. Now a test could help diagnose the infection. A new test can distinguish between Lyme disease and another tick-borne disease with nearly identical symptoms. This could enable doctors to treat the condition much sooner, preventing its debilitating symptoms from setting in. Lyme disease – a bacterial infection transmitted by the blacklegged tick (pictured above) – is a major public health problem in the US, with around 300,000 people contracting it each year. Thanks in part to climate change, the ticks that carry the disease are no longer confined to small pockets of the US but are spreading through Asia and Europe, where people aren’t used to recognising its symptoms. Diagnosis is largely based on the presence of the characteristic “bullseye” skin lesions around the site of a tick bite. However, an identical pattern is caused by a milder disease, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). While both are treated using antibiotics, they usually require different types. Both conditions can give you chills, fatigue and joint ache, but if Lyme disease is left to linger it can cause facial paralysis and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. This makes it critical to determine which infection a person has as soon as possible.
8-16-17 A new tool could one day improve Lyme disease diagnosis
A new tool could one day improve Lyme disease diagnosis
‘Fingerprint’ test distinguishes between two easily confused tick-borne illnesses. It can be difficult to correctly diagnose tick-borne diseases in locales with both the black-legged tick, which spreads Lyme disease, and the lone star tick, which can transmit southern tick associated rash illness or STARI. A new testing method can distinguish between early Lyme disease and a similar tick-borne illness, researchers report. The approach may one day lead to a reliable diagnostic test for Lyme, an illness that can be challenging to identify. Using patient blood serum samples, the test accurately discerned early Lyme disease from the similar southern tick?associated rash illness, or STARI, up to 98 times out of 100. When the comparison also included samples from healthy people, the method accurately identified early Lyme disease up to 85 times out of 100, beating a commonly used Lyme test’s rate of 44 of 100, researchers report online August 16 in Science Translational Medicine. The test relies on clues found in the rise and fall of the abundance of molecules that play a role in the body’s immune response. “From a diagnostic perspective, this may be very helpful, eventually,” says Mark Soloski, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine who was not involved with the study. “That’s a really big deal,” he says, especially in areas such as the mid-Atlantic where Lyme and STARI overlap.
8-16-17 Banking a baby’s cord blood may save their life. Is it worth it?
Banking a baby’s cord blood may save their life. Is it worth it?
Parents are paying huge sums to save umbilical cord blood for future medical treatments, but they may have to wait decades for the investment to pay off. IT IS only half a cup of blood, but it could change your life. Blood taken from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord is a rich source of uniquely potent stem cells. Parents are often encouraged to donate it to a public bank, so that it might be used to treat others with rare blood disorders. However, there is no guarantee you will get to use your own blood later if you need it. This was not a problem when the disorders it treated were exceptionally rare. But this is changing. Even now, researchers are busy investigating whether cord blood could be used to treat more common disorders including heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Hundreds of trials are under way, and some are starting to show positive results. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a growing number of people are choosing to bank their children’s cord blood privately, even before the science is settled. Given that they might not need it for decades, should you hedge your bets and bank your baby’s cord blood? The official line – touted by organisations including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics – is that private banking should be discouraged, or at least not recommended, because it is a waste of time and money. “Frankly, I encourage parents to put the money towards college education,” says Jeffrey Ecker at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
8-16-17 I paid $2500 to bank my son’s cord blood, but couldn’t use it
I paid $2500 to bank my son’s cord blood, but couldn’t use it
An anonymous father says after storing the expensive cells, his son developed a condition that the blood could not treat. The number of people banking their newborn baby’s cord blood is on the rise, as parents hope the stem cells within the blood could be used to treat their child should they develop a disease later in life. We’ve looked at the evidence behind cord blood banking, but what is the experience actually like? Alan* and his wife decided to privately store their son’s cord blood when he was born in 2005. “We thought, if we are ever going to need this, we’re really going to need it,” says Alan. “We thought, let’s just go for it.” The couple had heard about cord blood banking, and had seen leaflets from cord blood banks in their local hospital. “At the time, there was a lot of excitement surrounding stem cells,” says Alan. “We’d thought we’d err on the side of the potential for the future.” That potential was worth the one-off fee of £2000 for Alan and his wife. “We had to think carefully about spending that money,” says Alan. “It’s expensive, we didn’t know if we would end up using the cord blood.” Eleven years later, Alan did want to try using the stored blood. The couple’s son developed a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which leaves the heart unable to function properly. “I had read about the possibility of treating his condition with stem cells,” says Alan. “But a clinical trial of stem cells for his condition had been carried out a few years before, and found that it didn’t work, so the hospital that was treating him had no interest in using his cord blood. He ended up having a heart transplant.”
8-16-17 The science of how we choose our romantic partners
The science of how we choose our romantic partners
Your family has a lot to do with it. The peacock's dazzling tail feathers do not exist for them to carry out everyday activities such as eating or sleeping, but because their colorfulness is attractive to peahens: The more brilliant the feathers, the greater the chance the peacock has of finding a sexual partner. Tail feathers, to peahens, can be powerfully attractive. Scientists have long been interested in unraveling the subconscious processes that influence partner choice, since heritable characteristics that are favored in sexual partners will tend to increase in frequency in subsequent generations. That's why the peacock's tail feathers are so radiant: Over many generations, more beautiful tail feathers have been selected. This means that partner preferences tell us something about the evolutionary pressures that shape a species — including us. So what do we find attractive in each other, and why? Much of our sense of what is attractive comes into focus when viewed through the lens of successful reproduction. Childbearing and childrearing have fed into our idea of what we want in a partner. Health, fecundity, and the willingness and ability to invest in parenting are not exclusively or inevitably desired in a partner, but they are reliably found attractive across different populations, though there are of course some cultural differences. These biological preferences also align with mate choice in other species. It's clear that what we want in a partner has roots that stretch back long before Instagram, makeup counters, marketing campaigns, or corsetry. Safe to say, these preferences have something to do with our basic human nature.
8-16-17 Tiny robots crawl through mouse’s stomach to heal ulcers
Tiny robots crawl through mouse’s stomach to heal ulcers
Bacterial infections in mice have been cleared up by bubble-propelled micromotors that swim through the stomach and release antibiotic payloads - and then dissolve in stomach acid. Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors – autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair – have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. “The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated,” says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine. The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released.
8-16-17 Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Fish eat bits of plastic because they think they smell good
Hungry fish are gulping down mouthfuls of plastic, perhaps because it smells like their favourite foods. Hundreds of marine species are known to eat plastic – including those that regularly end up on our dinner plates. But why? It now seems that ocean-borne plastic has a smell that marine animals find appealing. Matthew Savoca at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, explored the dietary preferences of marine life while he was a researcher at the University of California, Davis. He and his colleagues exposed schools of anchovies to seawater that contained odours from plastic. To make this, they left plastic beads in the ocean for three weeks, then stirred the beads into seawater samples before filtering them out – leaving just the associated odour chemicals. In the ocean, plastic quickly becomes covered with a layer of algae that releases smelly sulphur compounds. Foraging fish such as anchovies, which feed on algae-munching marine crustaceans called krill, are thought to use these compounds to help them locate their prey. When analysing videos of the anchovies, the researchers noticed that the fish reacted to the fouled plastic solutions as if they were their crustacean prey. The decision to use solutions that smelled of plastic rather than actual pieces of plastic meant the fish weren’t responding to visual cues; the fish must have smelled the odours. They did not respond to clean plastic. The work builds on Savoca’s earlier research, which suggested that similar sulphurous odours lure tube-nosed seabirds – which are also krill-feeders – into eating plastic.
8-16-17 'Frankenstein dinosaur' mystery solved
'Frankenstein dinosaur' mystery solved
Scientists have solved the puzzle of the so-called "Frankenstein dinosaur", which seems to consist of body parts from unrelated species. A new study suggests that it is in fact the missing link between plant-eating dinosaurs, such as Stegosaurus, and carnivorous dinosaurs, like T. rex. The finding provides fresh insight on the evolution of the group of dinos known as the ornithischians. The study is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. Matthew Baron, a PhD student at Cambridge University, told BBC News that his assessment indicated that the Frankenstein dinosaur was one of the very first ornithischians, a group that included familiar beasts such as the horned Triceratops, and Stegosaurus which sported an array of bony plates along its back. "We had absolutely no idea how the ornithischian body plan started to develop because they look so different to all the other dinosaurs. They have so many unusual features," the Cambridge scientist said. "In the 130 years since the ornithischian group was first recognised, we have never had any concept of how the first ones could have looked until now."
8-15-17 Plants 'hijacked' to make polio vaccine
Plants 'hijacked' to make polio vaccine
Plants have been "hijacked" to make polio vaccine in a breakthrough with the potential to transform vaccine manufacture, say scientists. The team at the John Innes Centre, in Norfolk, says the process is cheap, easy and quick. As well as helping eliminate polio, the scientists believe their approach could help the world react to unexpected threats such as Zika virus or Ebola. Experts said the achievement was both impressive and important. The vaccine is an "authentic mimic" of poliovirus called a virus-like particle. Outwardly it looks almost identical to poliovirus but - like the difference between a mannequin and person - it is empty on the inside. It has all the features needed to train the immune system, but none of the weapons to cause an infection. The scientists hijacked a relative of the tobacco plant's metabolism to turn its leaves into polio-vaccine "factories".
8-15-17 Ancient warriors killed and ate their dogs as rite of passage
Ancient warriors killed and ate their dogs as rite of passage
4000 years ago in Eurasia, young warriors killed large numbers of dogs, ate their flesh, and chopped their skulls into small pieces as part of a bizarre initiation into war bands. The remains of roasted, chopped and defleshed dog skulls in the Eurasian steppe are providing evidence of a bizarre rite of passage for young boys from 4000 years ago – one that might have echoes in the foundation myth of ancient Rome. “The nature of this ritual was that they killed and then consumed very large numbers of dogs and some wolves with them,” says David Anthony at Hartwick College in New York. Anthony and his Hartwick colleague Dorcas Brown analysed the bones of at least 64 different dogs and wolves. The remains came from a Bronze Age site roughly 3900 to 3700 years old, at the ancient village of Krasnosamarskoe in present-day Russia. The researchers found that the dogs’ bodies appear to have been expertly chopped. The skulls alone were cut into about a dozen pieces after being roasted – almost all by the same method. Cut marks on some of the skull fragments show that the flesh may have been stripped from them after roasting, which Anthony says points to them having been eaten. DNA analysis shows most of the dogs were male, which Anthony says suggests a male initiation rite. The killings may not have occurred every year, but the fact that the remains were stratified in the soil suggests the same process was done several times. The dogs were killed mostly during the winter, based on chemical analysis of their teeth, while cattle and sheep bones discovered with them were killed throughout the year. This also hints that the dog killing was not just for meat, but for some sort of ritual purpose.
8-15-17 Even ‘healthy’ overweight people have a higher cardiac risk
Even ‘healthy’ overweight people have a higher cardiac risk
Being overweight or obese is linked to coronary heart disease and heart attacks even when a person has healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Even if a person has healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, being overweight or obese is still associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. That’s according to an analysis of data from more than half a million people in Europe, of whom more than 7,600 experienced coronary heart disease incidents, including heart attacks. Ioanna Tzoulaki, of Imperial College London, and colleagues compared each person’s body mass index with whether they were metabolically “healthy” or “unhealthy”. People were classed as the latter if they had three or more of a range of metabolic markers, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of “good” cholesterol, or a large waist circumference. Taking a range of factors into account, the team found that, compared to healthy people of a normal weight, those classed as unhealthy had double the risk of coronary heart disease – regardless of whether they were a normal weight, overweight or obese. People who were deemed “healthy” but were overweight were found to be 26 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease, and this rose to 28 per cent in those that were obese. The findings add to evidence that it is not possible to be “fat but fit”.
8-14-17 Choosing alternative cancer treatment doubles your risk of death
Choosing alternative cancer treatment doubles your risk of death
People who choose alternative cancer medicines tend to be wealthier and have higher levels of education, but are more than twice as likely to die in five years. People who choose alternative medicine over conventional treatment for their cancer are more likely to die from the disease. That’s what Skyler Johnson and his colleagues at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut found when they looked at treatment and survival records from the US National Cancer Database. The team identified 281 people with breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer who had opted for unproven treatments, shunning conventional approaches such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Johnson doesn’t know what alternative treatments these people took, but has seen many of his own patients opt for a wide range of therapies. “They could be herbs, botanicals, homeopathy, special diets or energy crystals, which are basically just stones that people believe have healing powers,” he says. The team then compared the health outcomes of these people with 560 others who were similar to them in terms of age, race and disease, but instead underwent conventional treatment. They found that people who took alternative medicine were two and half times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis. This is a low estimate, says Johnson, skewed by the fact that prostate cancer, for example, takes longer than that to develop into a life-threatening disease. Among those with breast cancer, people taking alternative remedies were 5.68 times more likely to die within five years. While 41 per cent of those receiving conventional treatment for lung cancer survived for at least five years, only 20 per cent of those who opted out of such treatment did. And only 33 per cent of people using alternative medicine for colorectal cancer survived the next five years, compared to 79 per cent of those on conventional treatments.
8-14-17 Childhood exercise may protect against memory loss in old age
Childhood exercise may protect against memory loss in old age
Rats that run during their youth are better able to remember new things when they are older - a finding that suggests exercise may help prevent dementia. Can exercise during childhood protect you against memory loss many decades later? Exercise early in life seems to have lifelong benefits for the brain, in rats at least. “This is an animal study, but it indicates that physical activity at a young age is very important – not just for development, but for the whole lifelong trajectory of cognitive development during ageing,” says Martin Wojtowicz of the University of Toronto, Canada. “In humans, it may compensate for and delay the appearance of Alzheimer’s symptoms, possibly to the point of preventing them.” Wojtowicz’s team spilt 80 young male rats into two equal groups, and placed running wheels in the cages of one group for a period of six weeks. Around four months later – when the rats had reached middle age – the team taught all the rats to associate an electric shock with being in a specific box. When placed in the box, they froze with fear. Two weeks later, the team tested the rats in three scenarios: exactly the same box in the same room, the same box with the room arranged and lit differently, and a completely different box in a different room. The rats without access to a running wheel when they were young now froze the same proportion of times in each of these situations, suggesting they couldn’t remember which one was hazardous. But those that had been able to run in their youth froze 40 to 50 per cent less in both altered box settings.
8-14-17 Activated charcoal drug can protect microbiome from antibiotics
Activated charcoal drug can protect microbiome from antibiotics
A special formulation of activated charcoal can soak up excess antibiotics, protecting beneficial gut bacteria and potentially preventing diarrhoea. Antibiotics can save your life, but they can also mess up your microbiome. A special formulation of activated charcoal could help, protecting your body from the side effects of antibiotics, and perhaps even aiding the fight against antibiotic resistance. The side effects of a course of antibiotics – such as stomach pains and diarrhoea – are familiar to many. But by messing with the balance of microorganisms in a person’s body, they may also cause longer term changes, potentially leading to obesity, allergies and eczema. And by killing too many of the good bacteria in your gut, they can make way for harmful and even drug-resistant bacteria, such as C. difficile, which is responsible for around 30,000 deaths a year in the US. Jean de Gunzberg and his colleagues at Da Volterra, a biotech company based in Paris, think they have found a solution. Activated charcoal – a super-absorbent material – is routinely used to soak up excess drugs in the guts of people who have overdosed, and they have evidence that a modified version could do this for antibiotics.
8-14-17 Smart cameras spot when hospital staff don’t wash their hands
Smart cameras spot when hospital staff don’t wash their hands
One in 20 people admitted to hospital pick up an infection while they’re there, but cameras tracking people’s movements could spot who’s spreading diseases. If you end up in a hospital in Europe, you have a one in 20 chance of acquiring an infection while there. One of the leading causes is a lack of hand hygiene. Even though hospitals are filled with alcohol-based gel dispensers and advisory posters, they’re not working. The conclusion of a recent pilot study may just have found the solution. Using a combination of depth cameras and computer-vision algorithms, a research team has tracked people around two hospital wards and automatically identified when they used gel dispensers. The trial was so successful that the group is now going to fully kit out three hospitals for a whole year, to see if it puts a dent in the stubborn acquired infections statistics. “We’re trying to shed light on the dark spaces of healthcare. Understanding the problem is just the first step,” says Alexandre Alahi at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne. In the initial study, during a busy Friday lunch time they collected images from cameras installed overlooking corridors, patient rooms and alcohol-based gel dispensers, among other places. Of the 170 people they recorded entering a patient’s room, only 30 people correctly used the gel dispensers. The team then used 80 per cent of the images to train their algorithms to detect healthcare staff, track them as they move from one spot to another across different cameras, and monitor their hand hygiene behaviour. Once trained up, they then tested the system on the remaining 20 per cent, and achieved an accuracy of 75 per cent in telling whether people had used the dispensers.
8-14-17 Polluted water: It’s where sea snakes wear black
Polluted water: It’s where sea snakes wear black
A reptile may be an evolutionary counterpart to dark moths in sooty areas. This dark form of a turtle-headed sea snake is shedding its skin, and maybe some toxic trace metals along with it. Maybe it’s more than reptile fashion. The high percentage of citified sea snakes wearing black might be a sign that pollution is an evolutionary force. Off the coasts of Australia and New Caledonia, some turtle-headed sea snakes (Emydocephalus annulatus) sport pale bands on their dark skins. Others go all black. In 15 places surveyed, the all-black form was more likely to predominate in waters near cities, military sites or industrial zones than along reefs near less built-up coastlines, says evolutionary ecologist Rick Shine of the University of Sydney. That trend plus some analysis of trace elements in snakes’ skin suggests that the abundant dark forms could turn out to be an example of industrial melanism, Shine and his colleagues propose August 10 in Current Biology.
8-11-17 Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish go months without oxygen by making alcohol inside cells
Goldfish and crucian carp have evolved enzymes that turn carbohydrates into alcohol when no oxygen is available – helping the fish survive in ice-locked pools. Goldfish and their wild crucian carp relatives can survive for five months without breathing oxygen – and now we know how. The fish have evolved a set of enzymes that, when oxygen levels drop, ultimately helps convert carbohydrates into alcohol that can then be released through the gills. For most animals – including humans – a lack of oxygen can be fatal within minutes. We can metabolise carbohydrates without oxygen, but the process generates toxic lactic acid that quickly builds up in our bodies. On the face of it, this should pose a big problem for crucian carp. They live in ponds and lakes in northern Europe and Asia that freeze over in winter, so the fish have to survive for months without oxygen until the ice melts in spring. But the carp – and their close relative the goldfish – have developed a workaround. When they metabolise carbohydrates anaerobically, the end product is not lactic acid but alcohol, which is easier to remove from their bodies. “The adaptation is very rare among animals,” says Michael Berenbrink at the University of Liverpool in the UK.
8-11-17 Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Fish sauced? Goldfish turn to alcohol to survive icy winters
Scientists have decoded the secrets behind a goldfish's ability to survive in ice-covered lakes. They've worked out how and why the fish turn lactic acid in their bodies into alcohol, as a means of staying alive. Some goldfish were found to have levels well above legal drink-driving limits in many countries. The researchers say the work may help with the study of some alcohol impacts in humans. Scientists have known about the peculiar survival abilities of goldfish and their wild relatives, crucian carp, since the 1980s. While humans and most vertebrates die in a few minutes without oxygen, these fish are able to survive for months in icy conditions in ponds and lakes in northern Europe. Researchers have now uncovered the molecular mechanism behind this ability. In most animals there is a single set of proteins that channel carbohydrates towards the mitochondria, which are the power packs of cells. In the absence of oxygen, the consumption of carbohydrates generates lactic acid, which the goldfish can't get rid of and which kills them in minutes. Luckily, these fish have evolved a second set of proteins that take over in the absence of oxygen and convert the lactic acid to alcohol, which can then be dispersed through the gills. "The second pathway is only activated through lack of oxygen," author Dr Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool, UK, told BBC News. "The ice cover closes them off from the air, so when the pond is ice-covered the fish consumes all the oxygen and then it switches over to the alcohol." The longer they are in freezing, airless conditions the higher the alcohol levels in the fish become.
8-11-17 Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Tottering piglets can’t walk at first but learn super-fast
Video analysis shows that it only takes piglets 8 hours to learn to gain full control over their limbs, allowing them to walk as confidently as adult pigs. Newborn piglets may totter slowly to begin with, but within 8 hours they are trotting with confidence. New evidence suggests that this ability is not something they are born with, and must largely be learned. The finding confirms that walking isn’t entirely innate, even for animals – like pigs – that need to walk soon after birth. Animals such as humans, rats and mice are mostly helpless as newborns. Other species, particularly hoofed animals, must quickly fend for themselves. For instance, baby wildebeest can follow the herd just an hour after birth. Newborn pigs stand and walk within minutes of birth too – but no one was sure whether they are born with all the motor skills they need to walk, or whether they develop them extraordinarily quickly. To try to figure this out, Chris Van Ginneken of the University of Antwerp in Belgium and her colleagues followed 14 toddling piglets over the first four days of life. They filmed each piglet at the same 10 moments in their young existences, walking at their own pace across a rubber mat – used to prevent the animals slipping. Video analysis allowed the researchers to examine the piglets’ speed and stride length, as well as how often they took steps and how long each foot spent touching the ground. The team scaled the data to correct for each animal’s growth, giving them a picture of how gaits altered with age. From birth, the piglets knew the fundamentals of limb coordination: their feet hit the ground in the same order as in adult pigs, the team found. But this doesn’t mean they were confident walkers from birth.
8-11-17 Less sleep, bigger belly
Less sleep, bigger belly
People who don’t get enough sleep could be adding inches to their waistline, a new study has shown. Researchers at the University of Leeds in the U.K. examined the association between sleep, diet, weight, and overall metabolic health among more than 1,600 adults, who tracked their diet and how long they slept each night. The researchers measured each person’s waist circumference; factored in variables including age, ethnicity, smoking, and income; and checked the participants’ blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and thyroid function. They found that the waistlines of those who slept an average of six hours each night were about 1.2 inches larger than the waistlines of those who managed nine hours. The participants who slept less also had lower levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps reduce the risk for heart disease, reports ScienceDaily.com. The importance of sleep should not be underestimated, researcher Laura Hardie said, adding, “the current consensus is that seven to nine hours is best for most adults.”
8-11-17 Where your atoms came from
Where your atoms came from
As much as half of all the matter in the Milky Way, including the atoms that make up the human body, may have come from distant galaxies up to 1 million light-years away, reports NBCNews.com. Researchers at Northwestern and other universities used supercomputer simulations to study how galaxies evolve over billions of years. Exploding stars, known as supernovas, eject trillions of tons of atoms into space with such force that they can escape the gravitational pull of their own galaxy. Carried by powerful galactic winds consisting of gas particles from the supernova explosion, these atoms can travel across the universe at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second to another galaxy—which can then “steal” the material. It was previously thought galactic winds weren’t powerful enough to transfer a significant amount of mass from one galaxy to another. But this new analysis finds that the Milky Way absorbs about one sun’s worth of “star stuff” each year. In a very real sense, says co-author Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, “we are extragalactic visitors or immigrants in what we think of as our galaxy.”
8-11-17 Wine wards off diabetes
Wine wards off diabetes
Consuming alcohol every few days may help protect against type 2 diabetes—even more than not drinking at all. A team at Denmark’s National Institute of Public Health analyzed data from more than 70,000 healthy Danish adults who were surveyed about their health and drinking habits between 2007 and 2012. During that period, nearly 1,750 of the participants developed diabetes. The people who drank alcohol at a moderate rate were significantly less likely to develop the disease: Men who consumed 14 drinks a week had a 43 percent lower risk than teetotalers; women who had nine drinks a week had a 58 percent reduced risk. How often the alcohol was consumed made a difference: Participants who drank three to four days a week were about 30 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who drank less than once a week. And wine, which contains chemicals that help manage blood sugar, appeared to be more beneficial than beer. Lead author Janne Tolstrup cautioned that the possible benefits of moderate drinking may well be outweighed by the potential health risks. “Alcohol is associated with 50 different conditions,” she tells BBC.com. “We’re not saying, ‘Go ahead and drink.’
8-11-17 GM pigs take step to being organ donors
GM pigs take step to being organ donors
The most genetically modified animals in existence have been created to help end a shortage of organs for transplant, say US researchers. The scientists successfully rid 37 pigs of viruses hiding in their DNA, overcoming one of the big barriers to transplanting pig organs to people. The team at eGenesis admits preventing pig organs from being rejected by the human body remains a huge challenge. But experts said it was a promising and exciting first step. The study, published in the journal Science, started with skin cells from a pig. Tests identified 25 Pervs - porcine endogenous retroviruses - hidden in the pig's genetic code. Experiments mixing human and pig cells together showed those viruses could escape to infect human tissues. But the researchers then used the game-changing gene-editing technology Crispr to delete the 25 Pervs. It then took cloning technology, the same used to create Dolly the sheep, to place the genetic material from those cells into a pig's egg and create embryos. The complex process is inefficient, but 37 healthy piglets have been born. "These are the first Perv-free pigs," Dr Luhan Yang, one of the researchers from Harvard University and the spinout company eGenesis, told the BBC News website. They were also "the most genetically modified [animals] in terms of the number of modifications", he said. If xenotransplantation - using organs from other species - works, then it has the potential to alleviate long waits for a transplant.
8-10-17 CRISPR makes piglets that may be better organ donors for humans
CRISPR makes piglets that may be better organ donors for humans
Organ transplants from pigs are a step closer, after the birth of piglets that have had the harmful viruses in their DNA inactivated using gene editing. Organ transplants from pigs are a step closer, after the birth of piglets that have had harmful viruses in their DNA inactivated using CRISPR gene editing. Many people with failing hearts, livers and kidneys are saved by donated organs from people who have died (or even some who are still living, in the case of kidneys), but there are not enough to go round. More than 1000 people die every year for lack of an organ in the UK. As pigs are similar to us in size and anatomy, there is hope that we can use their organs instead – an idea known as xenotransplantation. One problem with this idea is that pigs can harbour microbes such as hepatitis E virus – but these could be eliminated with medicines or vaccines. However, pigs also have many viruses embedded in their DNA, passed down the generations in sperm and eggs. When pig cells are grown in a dish along with human cells, these viruses – known as porcine endogenous retroviruses or PERVs – have crossed into the human cells, suggesting they would do the same if pig organs were put into people. If this happened, it may cause diseases like cancer.
8-10-17 Gene editing creates virus-free piglets
Gene editing creates virus-free piglets
Advance moves the animals one step closer to becoming organ donors for people. Researchers are working to create pigs that can donate organs for human transplant. These piglets are part of the first litter of pigs engineered to lack viruses called PERVs. Pigs are a step closer to becoming organ donors for people. Researchers used molecular scissors known as CRISPR/Cas9 to snip embedded viruses out of pig DNA. Removing the viruses — called porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs — creates piglets that can’t pass the viruses on to transplant recipients, geneticist Luhan Yang and colleagues report online August 10 in Science. Yang, a cofounder of eGenesis in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues had previously sliced 62 PERVs at a time from pig cells grown in the lab (SN: 11/14/15, p. 6). Many of the embedded viruses are already damaged and can’t make copies of themselves to pass on an infection. So in the new study, the researchers removed just 25 viruses that were still capable of infecting other cells.
8-10-17 Side effects kill thousands but our data on them is flawed
Side effects kill thousands but our data on them is flawed
As many as 40,000 people in the US die from drug side effects a year. The FDA’s database helps researchers understand why – but it has many problems. Side effects are a serious problem. As many as 40,000 people in the US die from drug side effects a year. To tackle the problem, the US Food and Drug Administration collects data from people who experience adverse events while taking prescribed drugs, but an analysis of that database has now discovered that it is full of noise and errors. The Food and Drug Administration Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) works in a similar way to the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme, enabling anyone to report drug side effects, not just doctors. Because the database is continuously updated, it’s often used by researchers seeking to understand and reduce drug side effects. But when one team attempted to use the database for a study like this, they found the data too flawed to use. This prompted Brian Shoichet of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues at Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research, to take a closer look. Analysing the data in FAERS, they found a wide range of problems. Many reports were submitted more than once, and often, the disease being treated was wrongly listed as a side effect of the drug – diabetes being named as a side effect of diabetes medication, for example.
8-10-17 The first look at how archaea package their DNA reveals they’re a lot like us
The first look at how archaea package their DNA reveals they’re a lot like us
Peek into microbes hints that packing scheme for genetic material goes way back. Archaea microbes wrap their DNA around proteins called histones akin to the way plants and animals do. Single-celled microbes may have taught plants and animals how to pack their genetic baggage. Archaea, a type of single-celled life-form similar to bacteria, keep their DNA wrapped around proteins much in the same way as more complex organisms, researchers report in the Aug. 11 Science. This finding provides new insight into the evolutionary origins of the DNA-packing process and the secret to archaea’s hardiness, which enables some to live in acid, boiling water or other extreme environments. All eukaryotes, including plants and animals, store their genetic material in cell compartments called nuclei. Such organisms cram meters of genetic material into the tiny nuclei by wrapping strands of DNA around clusters of proteins called histones (SN: 1/10/15, p. 32). “It doesn’t really matter which eukaryote you look at, whether it’s amoebas or plants or humans or fish or insects or anything,” says coauthor John Reeve, a microbiologist at Ohio State University. “They all have exactly the same structure.”
8-10-17 This is why the first CRISPR baby won’t be born in the US
This is why the first CRISPR baby won’t be born in the US
Hopes are high that gene editing embryos can ease inherited disease. The first such babies are likely within five years, but not in the US, says Jim Kozubek. The media well and truly pricked up its collective ears when US geneticist Shoukhrat Mitalipov last month showed that he could use the CRISPR gene-editing system in a very early human embryo to correct a mutation that can cause heart defects. Such excitement is understandable. Even if his work wasn’t the first of its type, it was arguably the most sophisticated and had the most promising results, a proof in principle that opens the door to possibly modifying other genes. How about targeting a mutated APP gene, linked to risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s? Or mutated BRCA genes, linked to risk of breast or ovarian cancer, or a variant of ACTN3 that can boost athletic potential? Enthusiasm must be tempered though. Mutations in BRCA genes, for example, are nested in complex relationships with other genes. It would be impossible to know if modifying a single BRCA gene would reduce cancer risk until we tried. We could also add mutations with known benefits. One is possible in the gene PCSK9 that lowers LDL cholesterol and the risk of ischaemic stroke. But having LDL that is too low raises the risk of another problem: haemorrhagic stroke. Such gains rarely come for free. But where might the first gene-edited baby be born? There are reasons to doubt it will be in the US. In February, the National Academies of Sciences published a report, Human Genome Editing: Science, ethics, and governance, that gives support for gene editing for human reproductive purposes, but only in cases where no safer, existing options are available. (Webmaster's comment: We'll just have to go to China for our advanced medical tretment.)
8-10-17 Cannibals engraved bones of the dead
Cannibals engraved bones of the dead
A series of zig-zag marks on a human bone found in a UK cave is evidence of a cannibalistic ritual that took place some 15,000 years ago. Scientists have long recognised that cannibals operated at Gough’s Cave in Somerset, but were unsure whether the practice of eating other people had any symbolic significance. Reporting in the journal Plos One, researchers say the unusual cuts on a forearm bone are deliberate. They are not simple butchery markings. Nor are they teeth marks. What is more, the zig-zags appear to match designs used on other engraved objects from the same time period. "The engraved motif on the Gough's Cave bone is similar to engravings observed in other Magdalenian European sites," said Silvia Bello from London’s Natural History Museum. "However, what is exceptional in this case is the choice of raw material (human bone) and the cannibalistic context in which it was produced. "The sequence of modifications performed on this bone suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations.
8-10-17 First 'winged' mammals flew over dinosaurs
First 'winged' mammals flew over dinosaurs
Fossils of the first "winged" mammals, from 160 million years ago, have been discovered in China. They reveal that mammal ancestors evolved to glide between trees in a similar way to some mammals today. This adds to evidence that mammals were more diverse during the age of dinosaurs than previously realised. The work is published by an international team of scientists in this week's Nature. The two new fossil species exhibit highly specialised characteristics, including adaptations that allowed them to climb trees, roost on branches and glide. This means that the ability of mammals to glide evolved much earlier than previously thought. Prof Zhe-Xi Luo, from the University of Chicago, US, said: "These Jurassic mammals are truly the first to glide. "In a way, they got the first 'wings' among all mammals," he told BBC News. The wings are the preserved remains of a skin membrane that stretches, parachute-like, between fore and hind limbs, allowing the creatures to glide. The evidence of this volant, or flying, lifestyle in these fossil species occurs 100 million years before modern mammal fliers.
8-10-17 Giant dinosaur slims down... a bit
Giant dinosaur slims down... a bit
So, it wasn’t quite as big as they first thought, but the dimensions of the colossal dinosaur unearthed in Argentina in 2014 still take your breath away. Its fossil bones suggested at the time the animal - this week named Patagotitan mayorum - could have tipped the scales at 77 tonnes. Further investigation by scientists now put its likely bulk at 69 tonnes. However, that still makes it one of biggest dinosaurs ever discovered. A team from the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio, led by Dr Jose Luis Carballido and Dr Diego Pol, reports its interpretation of the bones in the latest edition of the Royal Society journal Proceedings B. The group had followed up the chance discovery in 2013 by a local farm worker of a bone protruding from desert rock near La Flecha, about 250km west of Trelew in Patagonia. The excavation, filmed by the BBC for a David Attenborough documentary, eventually produced hundreds of bones belonging to at least six individuals.
8-9-17 Chemical controllers: How hormones influence your body and mind
Chemical controllers: How hormones influence your body and mind
Does testosterone make men bald? Is there a love hormone? Do pregnancy hormones turn your brain to mush? New Scientist sifts the facts from the fiction. WE LIKE to think we are in charge of our own behaviour – that our thoughts are under our conscious control and that our actions are mostly reasonable. But our behaviour is also in the sway of an ancient system of mind control: hormones. These protein messengers are best known for their fundamental duty as regulators – think of insulin and blood sugar, for example – but they also bathe the brain in chemical information that tells us about the world around us and the people in it. Can a surge in a particular hormone make us feel and act like a totally different person? And if so, are we right to blame our out-of-control moments on some kind of biochemical signalling? Here, we look at some of the big notions about how hormones mess with your head and sift fact from fiction.
- Oxytocin equals love
- Periods make you see red
- Hormones make you hangry
- Cortisol is bad for you
- Testosterone makes men angry and bald
- Mums’ brains turn to mush
- Changing gender changes your brain
- The rages of the brain
- HORMONE SURGES IN BOYS
- ADRENAL FATIGUE
- HOWLING AT THE MOON
- It’s not (just) your glands
- The upside of the hormonal roller coaster
8-9-17 More U.S. adults are drinking, and more heavily
More U.S. adults are drinking, and more heavily
Women and minorities are among the groups that saw the largest increase in a survey of alcohol use. Nearly 30 million American adults are high-risk drinkers, downing four (for women) or five (for men) drinks on one occasion at least once a week. The United States has a serious drinking problem. Since 2001, heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder have risen dramatically, according to a new study that surveyed tens of thousands of adults. The numbers reveal “a public health crisis,” the authors say. The increases were especially large among those 65 years and older, minorities and women, researchers report online August 9 in JAMA Psychiatry. Alcohol is a risk factor for many potentially life-threatening injuries and health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and liver cirrhosis. In 2012?2013, an estimated 29.6 million American adults reported high-risk drinking, up from 20.2 million in 2001?2002. This heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than the daily guidelines — five or more drinks per occasion for men, four or more for women — at least once a week. The number of adults who suffered from an alcohol abuse or dependence grew from 17.6 million to 29.9 million over that decade. Some high-risk drinkers could also fall into this alcohol use disorder category.
8-9-17 ‘Three parent’ technique must not be marketed in US, says FDA
‘Three parent’ technique must not be marketed in US, says FDA
The US Food and Drug Administration has asked John Zhang, who pioneered a technique to prevent mitochondrial disease, to stop performing the procedure. THE “three-parent baby” technique offered by a New York fertility clinic should no longer be marketed, says the US Food and Drug Administration. Last year, New Scientist revealed that John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center had used his own mitochondrial replacement technique to create an embryo from a couple’s egg and sperm, plus mitochondrial DNA from another woman. This meant the couple didn’t pass on a fatal genetic mitochondrial disorder to the resulting child. Because the FDA had denied Zhang’s application for a licence to perform this procedure in people, the embryo was created in the US, but implanted into the mother’s uterus in Mexico. Now Mary Malarkey of the FDA has written to Zhang, saying that “such human subject research cannot legally be performed in the United States”. The websites of Zhang’s clinic and his biotech company Darwin Life promote the procedure as “the first proven treatment for certain genetic disorders” and “a cure for mitochondrial disease”. But mitochondrial replacement therapies cannot be marketed without a valid licence, says the FDA. (Webmaster's comment: So again the Chinese will have to take the lead in medical technology.)
8-9-17 Type 1 diabetes may be halted by experimental immunotherapy
Type 1 diabetes may be halted by experimental immunotherapy
For the first time, an immunotherapy approach for treating type 1 diabetes has been found to be safe, and it seems to stop the condition from getting worse. An immunotherapy approach for treating type 1 diabetes has been found to be safe for the first time, and seems to stop the condition from getting worse. Immunotherapies aim to modulate a person’s immune system, usually to relieve autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Type 1 diabetes is also an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system’s T-cells mistakenly attack the pancreas’s insulin-producing beta cells. But no immunotherapy had proven safe for treating the condition – let alone stopped it in its tracks. Preliminary results from a small trial now suggest that peptide immunotherapy may do just that. The therapy involves injecting a person’s blood with short segments of proinsulin, a molecule produced by beta cells that is then turned into insulin. These fragments train attacking T-cells to recognise them as harmless and thus to stop attacking beta cells that make proinsulin. The treatment was given to 21 people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the past 100 days, while another eight people were given a saline placebo. Both groups received injections every few weeks or so for six months.
8-9-17 Pioneering type 1 diabetes therapy safe
Pioneering type 1 diabetes therapy safe
The first trial of a pioneering therapy to retrain the immune system and slow the advance of type 1 diabetes has shown it is safe. The disease is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. The immunotherapy - tested on 27 people in the UK - also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials. Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections. Aleix Rowlandson, from Lancashire, was diagnosed in 2015 aged 18. "Your blood sugars affect how much energy you have," she told the BBC. "If they're high, they can make you feel tired. If they're low, you can feel shaky. "I'm more optimistic knowing that the study has gone well and they can use that to find further treatments. "Even if it doesn't help me, myself, and it might help other people in the future, I'm very happy." Aleix's immune system is attacking her beta cells, which release the hormone insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable. As a result, she has to inject insulin several times a day. Aleix is taking part in the trials of immunotherapy at the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas'. It is an attempt to stop her diabetes by tapping into the immune system's natural checks and balances.
8-9-17 Cold comfort: How chilling the lungs could beat heart attacks
Cold comfort: How chilling the lungs could beat heart attacks
If you can't restart a stopped heart within 5 minutes, brain damage starts. But using the lungs as a heat exchanger to chill the blood may buy us more time. HERE’S a fact that might chill the cockles of your heart: if your ticker stops, you have less than 5 minutes to get it going again before your brain experiences irreversible damage. But there could soon be a way to open that window much wider, thanks to a technique that rapidly cools the body to exploit the life-saving powers of another notorious killer: hypothermia. It may seem paradoxical, but it all boils down to simple chemistry. You might think of ourself as a biological organism, but at a baser level you are chemical. Chemistry governs the function of your cells, senses, digestion and even your thoughts. As temperatures fall, chemical reactions slow down. That’s why it isn’t good to get too cold: if you lose too much heat, you slip into hypothermia. Remove enough heat and the reactions eventually shut off completely – a state known to biologists as death. But here’s the twist: sometimes, especially if death is an imminent danger, cold can be a lifesaver. “Hypothermia has huge benefits,” says Renaud Tissier of the National Veterinary School of Alfort, France. To harness these, Tissier and his collaborators have built a machine that plunges your body to frigid temperatures in a matter of minutes. How does it work? Take a deep breath and prepare to gag: by pumping a chilled liquid into your lungs.
8-9-17 Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close
Early humans may have seen a supervolcano explosion up close
Two ancient teeth found on Sumatra suggest early humans were there when the island’s supervolcano erupted 71,000 years ago. Two ancient teeth found in an Indonesian cave hint that our species had arrived there as early as 73,000 years ago – and may have had to deal with the biggest supervolcano eruption of the last few million years and also adapt to the challenges of living in thick rainforest. Many archaeologists were puzzled by the recent discovery of 65,000-year-old stone tools and other artefacts in northern Australia. According to traditional thinking, early members of our species, Homo sapiens, were just beginning to venture out of Africa at this time. To get from Africa to Australia, H. sapiens would also have needed to march across mainland Asia, then sail across the sea. The route should have included a stopover on the islands of Indonesia and Timor, but no H. sapiens artefacts older than 45,000 years had been found on these islands, until now. Kira Westaway at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues have discovered that H. sapiens probably did set foot in these islands more than 65,000 years ago. The team took another look at two teeth dug up by Dutch archaeologist Eugène Dubois in Lida Ajer cave on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the late 19th century. Partly through comparisons with orangutan fossils found nearby, they confirmed the teeth belong to our species – and using a modern dating technique known as electron spin resonance dating, they dated them between 63,000 and 73,000 years old. (Webmaster's comment: This is the eruption that nearly wiped out all Homo Sapies on earth caused by the global cooling caused by the volcanic dust in the atmosphere.)
8-9-17 Ancient people arrived in Sumatra’s rainforests more than 60,000 years ago
Ancient people arrived in Sumatra’s rainforests more than 60,000 years ago
Human teeth found in a Sumatran cave , an orangutan tooth and remains of other rainforest animals from the same cave indicate that people inhabited this challenging environment as early as 73,000 years ago. Humans inhabited rainforests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago — shortly before a massive eruption of the island’s Mount Toba volcano covered South Asia in ash, researchers say. Two teeth previously unearthed in Sumatra’s Lida Ajer cave and assigned to the human genus, Homo, display features typical of Homo sapiens, report geoscientist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University in Sydney and her colleagues. By dating Lida Ajer sediment and formations, the scientists came up with age estimates for the human teeth and associated fossils of various rainforest animals excavated in the late 1800s, including orangutans. Ancient DNA studies had already suggested that humans from Africa reached Southeast Asian islands before 60,000 years ago. Humans migrating out of Africa 100,000 years ago or more may have followed coastlines to Southeast Asia and eaten plentiful seafood along the way (SN: 5/19/12, p. 14). But the Sumatran evidence shows that some of the earliest people to depart from Africa figured out how to survive in rainforests, where detailed planning and appropriate tools are needed to gather seasonal plants and hunt scarce, fat-rich prey animals, Westaway and colleagues report online August 9 in Nature.
8-9-17 Ancient skull belonged to a cousin of the ape common ancestor
Ancient skull belonged to a cousin of the ape common ancestor
A 13-million-year-old skull found in Kenya provides the best evidence yet for the African origins of the ancient species that gave rise to all living apes. A newly discovered fossil ape skull is providing clues about the common ancestor of all living apes, including our own species. The fossil – small enough to fit comfortably in one hand – belongs to an infant, and is the most complete extinct ape skull in the fossil record so far. We now know a large amount about the evolution of the human line since it split from the chimp lineage about 7 million years ago, but the earlier stages of ape evolution – particularly the split between all living apes – are still hazy. The fossil skull throws light on that period of ape evolution. Found by fossil hunter John Ekusi in the Napudet area of northern Kenya, the fossil – nicknamed Alesi – is 13 million years old. It is the first relatively complete ape skull from the period between 14 and 10 million years ago. The researchers used sensitive 3D X-ray imaging to look inside the skull, and check out the brain cavity, inner ears and the ape’s yet to emerge adult teeth. The skull resembles a baby gibbon’s. “There are numerous fossil apes, monkeys, and even more primitive fossil primates that look a bit like gibbons,” explains Christopher Gilbert of the City University of New York, a member of the team that analysed the fossil. “Gibbon-like features probably evolved numerous times during primate evolution.” The fossil’s adult teeth were larger than those of similar species, so the team thinks the skull belongs to a new species – labelled Nyanzapithecus alesi. The name “alesi” comes from the Turkana word “ales” meaning ancestor.
8-9-17 Infant ape’s tiny skull could have a big impact on ape evolution
Infant ape’s tiny skull could have a big impact on ape evolution
Rare 13-million-year-old fossil represents a new species. An infant ape’s nearly complete skull, found in Kenya, dates to about 13 million years ago. Researchers suspect the youngster represents an ape group close to the origin of living apes and humans. A 13-million-year-old infant’s skull, discovered in Africa in 2014, comes from a new species of ape that may not be far removed from the common ancestor of living apes and humans. The tiny find, about the size of a lemon, is one of the most complete skulls known of any extinct ape that inhabited Africa, Asia or Europe between 25 million and 5 million years ago, researchers report in the Aug. 10 Nature. The fossil provides the most detailed look to date at a member of a line of African primates that are now candidates for central players in the evolution of present-day apes and humans. Most fossils from more than 40 known extinct ape species amount to no more than jaw fragments or a few isolated teeth. A local fossil hunter spotted the nearly complete skull in rock layers located near Kenya’s Lake Turkana. Members of a team led by paleoanthropologist Isaiah Nengo estimated the fossil’s age by assessing radioactive forms of the element argon in surrounding rock, which decay at a known rate. Comparisons with other African ape fossils indicate that the infant’s skull belongs to a new species that the researchers named Nyanzapithecus alesi. Other species in this genus, previously known from jaws and teeth, date to as early as around 25 million years ago.
8-9-17 Largest ever dinosaur may have been as long as 7 elephants
Largest ever dinosaur may have been as long as 7 elephants
Analysis of fossils from six Patagotitan mayorum dinosaurs suggests the animals may have weighed 62 tonnes and measured more than 35 metres from nose to tail. Fossilised bones from six dinosaurs may have belonged to the biggest animal ever to have walked the Earth. The fossils, which include vertebrae and rib bones, are from six young adult dinosaurs, and were all found in the same Patagonian quarry in Argentina. The species, named Patagotitan mayorum, is thought to have weighed around 62 tonnes and measured more than 35 metres from nose to tail. If you’re struggling to picture that, it’s about seven elephants, or more than two buses, or half the width of a football pitch, or somewhere between a standard swimming pool and an Olympic pool. That’s longer than Brachiosaurus was, and blue whales are today – both these species reach a maximum of about 30 metres. Patagotitan lived 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, and was a sauropod – a huge plant-eater with a long tail and neck, that stood on four legs. The species has competition for the crown of largest ever land animal. A similar dinosaur called Argentinosaurus has been calculated to have weighed more than 80 tonnes, but Jose Carballido, from the Museo Paleontologico Egido Feruglio, Argentina, says vertebrae fossils suggest this species was in fact 10 per cent smaller than Patagotitan.
8-9-17 Fossil find suggests this ancient reptile lurked on land, not in the water
Fossil find suggests this ancient reptile lurked on land, not in the water
Exquisitely preserved specimen may overturn ideas about spiny creature’s home. A round body and stiff, short legs revealed in a complete fossilized skeleton of Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi suggests the creature wasn’t sleek enough to swim. A round belly, stubby feet and a tapering tail made one armored reptile a lousy swimmer. Despite earlier reports, Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi might not have swum at all, scientists now say. E. dalsassoi was first identified in 2003. Fossils were found near Monte San Giorgio at the Swiss-Italian border alongside the remains of marine reptiles and fish that lived roughly 240 million years ago. That association led scientists to conclude the creature was aquatic. But a complete skeleton of E. dalsassoi unearthed in 2002 in the Swiss Alps and recently assembled contradicts that idea. At just under 20 centimeters long, the fossil, probably of a youngster, shows that E. dalsassoi widened at the stomach and slithered forward with stiff elbow and knee joints and spadelike claws. That’s not a swimmer’s build, paleontologist Torsten Scheyer of the University of Zurich and colleagues report June 30 in Scientific Reports.
8-7-17 Over-mothered puppies more likely to fail guide dog training
Over-mothered puppies more likely to fail guide dog training
Puppies receiving the most care from their mothers grow into adult dogs that lack the impulse control and problem solving ability of a successful guide dog. For most guide dogs, it’s tough to make the grade. Only 70 per cent of dogs that enter training successfully complete the programme. Unexpectedly, it’s puppies that receive the most care and attention from their mothers that are more likely to fail. Guide dogs need to be able to solve problems and navigate obstacles while also being calm and obedient. This means they need to ignore the impulses – like chasing squirrels – that might tempt their fellow canines. This perfect combination of intelligence and temperament doesn’t feature in every breed of dog, or even in every dog that is bred specifically to enter a guide dog programme. To explore what predicts success for a future guide dog, Emily Bray at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and her colleagues followed 98 Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers being trained at Seeing Eye guide dog school in Morristown, New Jersey, from birth to two-and-a-half years old. From previous studies on the link between canine mothering and puppy temperament, Bray guessed that more involvement from mothers would lead to more successful puppies. She found exactly the opposite. The puppies whose mothers were most intense in their caring behaviour – spending more time near their litters, and licking and nursing more – were more likely to fall out of the school’s training programme. Coddled pups were also slower during multistep problem solving tasks, less able to control their impulses to get a treat, and quicker to bark or vocalise when presented with a new toy.
8-7-17 Tackling resistant malaria may fuel antimicrobial resistance
Tackling resistant malaria may fuel antimicrobial resistance
Diagnostic testing is helping to fight the rise of drug-resistant malaria with an unfortunate side effect – it’s making more people take unnecessary antibiotics. Rapid tests that can tell if a person has malaria or not have led to a sharp drop in unnecessary malaria drug prescriptions, but may also have prompted a rise in the use of antibiotics. Rapid diagnostic tests can quickly tell if a person with a fever may have malaria. These tests have become more available since the World Health Organization implemented a diagnosis-before-treatment policy in 91 countries in Africa – part of efforts to reduce the over-use of antimalarial drugs, which has been driving the evolution of drug-resistant malaria. Since this policy was introduced, global testing for malaria has risen from 45 million tests in 2008 to 314 million in 2014. Now an analysis of 500,000 medical visits in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon and Afghanistan that took place between 2007 and 2013 has found that diagnostic tests have slashed the number of prescriptions for antimalarial drugs. While between 20 to 100 per cent of people with a fever were given antimalarial drugs in clinics that don’t yet use diagnostic tests, this fell to between 8 and 69 per cent in clinics that do. While this is good news for preventing the spread of resistant malaria from south east Asia into these regions, the use of diagnostic tests seems to have had an unfortunate side effect – increasing the number of people prescribed antibiotics.
8-7-17 Viking hordes dined on frozen Norwegian cod shipped to Germany
Viking hordes dined on frozen Norwegian cod shipped to Germany
DNA from ancient cod bones shows Vikings freeze-dried Arctic cod for serving up on European menus 300 years earlier than we thought. Norwegian cod may have arrived in Germany hundreds of years earlier than we originally thought, thanks to the ingenuity of the Vikings. It seems they worked out 1200 years ago how to freeze-dry fish to keep it fresh on the long voyage from the Arctic. Bastiaan Star of the University of Oslo, Norway, and his colleagues analysed DNA from 15 samples of ancient cod at five locations across north-west Europe – the southernmost samples coming from Haithabu, a Viking-age village in what is now northern Germany. By comparing the ancient DNA with genetic material taken from around 170 modern cod tissues, Star and his colleagues confirmed that four cod samples from Haithabu originated in the north-east Arctic, close to the northernmost tip of the Norwegian coast. The only explanation is that Viking ships transported the cod – a sea journey of 2000 kilometres that would have taken at least a month. Even then, Vikings – renowned for their maritime prowess – had developed a geographically extensive trade in fish, a perishable resource. The other key implication of the discovery is that the Vikings had worked out how to freeze-dry fish. Arctic cod populations only come close to the Norwegian shore to spawn in winter, and in Viking times that would have made them easier to catch. The winter chill would have made it simple to freeze-dry the fish naturally. The Vikings might have hung the fish from wooden racks in the open air so the clean, sea winds and freezing temperatures would do the rest.
8-7-17 First implants of stem-cell pouches to ‘cure’ type 1 diabetes
First implants of stem-cell pouches to ‘cure’ type 1 diabetes
Two people have been given implants of cells derived from embryonic stem cells that may be able to release insulin when needed to manage blood sugar levels. Last week, two people with type 1 diabetes became the first to receive implants containing cells generated from embryonic stem cells to treat their condition. The hope is that when blood sugar levels rise, the implants will release insulin to restore them to normal. About 10 per cent of the 422 million people who have diabetes worldwide have type 1 diabetes, which is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the pancreas that make insulin. For more than 15 years, researchers have been trying to find a way to use stem cells to replace these, but there have been several hurdles – not least, how to get the cells to work in the body. Viacyte, a company in San Diego, California, is trying a way to get round this. The firm’s thumbnail-sized implant, called PEC-Direct, contain cells derived from stem cells that can mature inside the body into the specialised islet cells that get destroyed in type 1 diabetes. The implant sits just below the skin, in the forearm, for example, and is intended to automatically compensate for the missing islet cells, releasing insulin when blood sugar levels get too high. “If it works, we would call it a functional cure,” says Paul Laikind, of Viacyte. “It’s not truly a cure because we wouldn’t address the autoimmune cause of the disease, but we would be replacing the missing cells.”
8-7-17 Watching others wash their hands may relieve OCD symptoms
Watching others wash their hands may relieve OCD symptoms
Simply watching other people do compulsive actions can provide some relief to people who have obsessive compulsive disorder, which could lead to new treatments. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may get relief simply from watching someone else perform their compulsive actions. If the finding holds up, we may be able to develop apps that help people with OCD stop needing to repeatedly wash their hands or pull their hair. When we watch someone else perform an action, the same parts of our brains become active as when we do the action ourselves. This is called the mirror neuron system, and it is thought to help us understand the actions and feelings of others. Baland Jalal at the University of Cambridge wondered whether this system could be used to help people with OCD. Working with his colleague Vilayanur Ramachandran, at the University of California, San Diego, he studied 10 people with OCD symptoms, who experience disgust when touching things they consider even mildly contaminated. The anxiety this causes forces them to wash their hands compulsively. All 10 people with OCD felt strong disgust after watching other people touch the faked objects. But they experienced significant relief just by watching a researchers’ handwashing – even if they themselves had been the one to touch the object.
8-7-17 Parasitic worm eggs may soon be legally sold as food in Germany
Parasitic worm eggs may soon be legally sold as food in Germany
Thousands have been infecting themselves with parasites to treat conditions like depression and multiple sclerosis, but we don’t yet know if it works. More than 7000 people worldwide are thought to have bought parasitic worms online and ingested them in an attempt to treat conditions ranging from depression to inflammatory bowel disease. Now, a type of pig worm is being evaluated for approval as a food ingredient in Germany. If accepted, it will become the first officially approved product of its kind in Europe. The idea for intentionally infecting yourself with parasites is that, until recent improvements in hygiene, they were common inhabitants of our bodies, having evolved to secrete substances that pacify our immune systems, so they can live in our guts. Detlev Goj, of Thai company Tanawisa, thinks that, in eliminating the problem of parasites – particularly the human hookworm – we may have overlooked possible benefits some parasites may have. Hookworms are bad – they can cause diarrhoea, pain, anaemia and weight loss. Thankfully, they are no longer a common problem in rich nations. But parts of the world where parasitic worms are still common haven’t had the same rises in immune conditions like allergies, inflammatory bowel problems, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis that have been seen in richer nations. “Most research has been focused on hookworm disease, and we’ve overcome that but overshot slightly,” says William Parker of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. “We need to scale back and find a happy medium.”
8-7-17 I tried ingesting rat tapeworm parasites and my poo turned green
I tried ingesting rat tapeworm parasites and my poo turned green
With the news that a worm product is being considered for approval as a food ingredient in Germany, Andy Coghlan decided to try out a parasite product. Down the microscope, they looked like tiny, sperm-like things, hatching out of their hidey-holes. A few minutes later, I was swallowing dozens of larval-stage parasites, washed down in one gulp of milk. An hour later, these egg-like organisms were probably hatching out as worms in my gut. “You swallow the egg-like sac and in the small intestine bile triggers the larvae to come out,” explains Judy Chinitz, co-founder of Biome Restoration, a company in Lancaster, UK, that sells vials of larval-stage rat tapeworms, Hymenolepis diminuta. “They eat microscopic bits of food, but die in 10 days.” The company is shipping these to around 2000 customers worldwide. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has cleared them for sale, provided the company makes no specific health claims. “We can say they ‘maintain good health’, and that’s it,” says Marc Dellerba, another co-founder. Biome Restoration was set up in response to growing online demand for live parasite products, and to provide a cheaper alternative to the pig whipworms other firms sell. The company doesn’t know what reasons its customers have for taking the worms, because of MHRA regulations. “We can’t ask, and we don’t, and we can’t collect clinical data, although it would be wonderful if we could,” says Dellerba.
8-7-17 Sacrificed dog remains feed tales of Bronze Age ‘wolf-men’ warriors
Sacrificed dog remains feed tales of Bronze Age ‘wolf-men’ warriors
Find is first archaeological evidence of coming-of-age rites described in ancient myths, researchers claim. Nearly 4,000 years ago, at a site in what’s now Russia, teenage boys ate dogs or wolves to join war bands, a contested report says. Dogs’ heads were commonly chopped in pieces designated by lines on this skull. Remains of at least two Late Bronze Age initiation ceremonies, in which teenage boys became warriors by eating dogs and wolves, have turned up in southwestern Russia, two archaeologists say. The controversial finds, which date to between roughly 3,900 and 3,700 years ago, may provide the first archaeological evidence of adolescent male war bands described in ancient texts. Select boys of the Srubnaya, or Timber Grave, culture joined youth war bands in winter rites, where they symbolically became dogs and wolves by consuming canine flesh, contend David Anthony and Dorcas Brown, both of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. This type of initiation ceremony coincides with myths recorded in texts from as early as roughly 2,000 years ago by speakers of Indo-European languages across Eurasia, the researchers report in the December Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Those myths link dogs and wolves to youthful male war bands, warfare and death. In the ancient accounts, young warriors assumed names containing words for dogs or wolves, wore dog or wolf skins and, in some cases, ate dogs during initiation ceremonies.
8-5-17 Why is it so exhausting to sit at your computer all day?
Why is it so exhausting to sit at your computer all day?
Fatigue after a day of sitting still can tire your body, not just your mind. Like most days, I spent the bulk of yesterday sitting in what I've determined to be the breeziest corner of my apartment, typing on my laptop. I filed a story, transcribed interviews for a few hours, and sent about half a million emails, but rarely got up from my chair. Still, by late afternoon, I wasn't just exhausted mentally, but physically, too — disproportionately so, it seemed, considering how little I'd moved. After briefly panicking that I'd fallen suddenly ill (blogging cancer?), I reached out to a couple of sleep and stress experts to tell me why it is that mental fatigue can feel so … physical. Certain forms of tiredness can often feel more "earned" than others. I get being tired after a run, but after sending some emails? Come on. Yet Dr. Steven Feinsilver, the director of sleep medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, stresses that mental fatigue is very much legitimate. He explains that the human body reacts to stress in many of the same ways regardless of whether the source is mental, like a difficult math problem, or physical, like running. "Your heart will pump and you'll produce adrenaline whether somebody's chasing you, or you're just really upset about something," he said. Furthermore, the brain requires a disproportionately high amount of the body's energy, accounting for about 20 percent of the oxygen consumed by the body. "Your muscles normally aren't sucking a lot of oxygen out of you," says Feinsilver. "With exercise, they will. But the brain always takes a lot of your energy." In other words, if you're conscious, your brain demands your energy, and lots of it. Using your brain takes real, honest, physical work — it's just not visible to us the way using our muscles to exercise is.
8-4-17 Spread of misfolded proteins could trigger type 2 diabetes
Spread of misfolded proteins could trigger type 2 diabetes
New research in mice raises the question of whether the disease is transmissible. Spurred by a dose of misfolded proteins, a 20-week-old mouse developed clumps of deformed proteins (green) in a cluster of cells called an islet (red) in its pancreas. Type 2 diabetes and prion disease seem like an odd couple, but they have something in common: clumps of misfolded, damaging proteins. Now new research finds that a dose of corrupted pancreas proteins induces normal ones to misfold and clump. This raises the possibility that, like prion disease, type 2 diabetes could be triggered by these deformed proteins spreading between cells or even individuals, the researchers say. When the deformed pancreas proteins were injected into mice without type 2 diabetes, the animals developed symptoms of the disease, including overly high blood sugar levels, the researchers report online August 1 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. “It is interesting, albeit not super-surprising” that the deformed proteins could jump-start the process in other mice, says Bruce Verchere, a diabetes researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. But “before you could say anything about transmissibility of type 2 diabetes, there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”
8-4-17 Men’s declining fertility
Men’s declining fertility
Sperm counts in Western men have more than halved over a period of almost 40 years, reports NBCNews.com. An international team of researchers analyzed 185 studies conducted between 1973 and 2011, involving nearly 43,000 men from North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. They found that over those four decades the concentration of sperm in the men’s ejaculate dropped 52 percent, and that their overall sperm count fell 59 percent. While the recent sperm levels were still within what fertility clinics class as “normal,” the downward spiral showed no signs of leveling off. “It’s extremely worrisome,” says lead author Shanna Swan, from the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “For couples who are trying to conceive, this is a very severe problem, and it’s difficult psychologically. But in the big scheme of things, this is also a major public health issue.” The researchers didn’t identify the causes of the decline, but suggested that factors could include stress, poor diet, smoking, and exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals.
8-4-17 When kids imitate others, they’re just being human
When kids imitate others, they’re just being human
I heard it for the first time a few days ago: “She’s copying me!” my 4-year-old wailed in a righteous complaint about her little sister. And she most certainly was copying, repeating the same nonsense word over and over. While it was distressing to my older kid, I thought it was funny that it took her so long to realize her sister copies almost everything she does. This egregious violation occurred just after I had read about an experiment that pitted young kids against bonobos in a test to see who might copy other individuals more. I’ll get right to the punch line: Kids won, by a long shot. The results, published online July 24 in Child Development, show that despite imitation annoying older siblings everywhere, it’s actually really important. “Imitation is one of the most essential skills for being human,” says study coauthor Zanna Clay, a comparative psychologist at the University of Birmingham and Durham University, both in England. Learning how to talk, operating the latest iPhone and figuring out how to buy bulk goods at the local co-op — these skills all rely on imitation. Not only that, but imitation is also important for cementing social relationships. My daughter notwithstanding, “Humans like to be imitated, and we like those who imitate us,” Clay says. Clay and her colleague Claudio Tennie tested just how strong the urge to imitate is in 77 children ages 3 to 5 and a group of 46 bonobos ages 3 to 29. In one-on-one trials, the researchers sat next to the kids and bonobos with a small wooden box about the size of a hand. Inside was a treat: a sticker for the kids and a bit of apple for the bonobos.
8-4-17 Want to be happier? Live in a small house.
Want to be happier? Live in a small house.
American houses have grown far too big. Chances are, your house is too big, and it may be doing you more damage than you realize. The average newly built home in America today offers more than 2,600 square feet, and the shrinking nuclear family means that works out to about 1,000 square feet per person. As of 2012, four in 10 homes were built with at least four bedrooms, and more than nine in 10 had at least two bathrooms. It wasn't always this way. Americans haven't always preferred to build mini-mansions, expected that every child have her own room, or paused, aghast, at the thought of getting along with a single bathroom for a family of four. American homes used to be much smaller. I live in one of them. My husband and I bought our first home in Minnesota's Twin Cities three years ago, a purchase we made despite my rampant consumption of avocado toast. Our house is small, but it isn't a tiny home or a cottage. In fact, when it was built, it was exactly average. Built in 1915 in a neighborhood then designated for "Workingmen's Homes," it measures around 1,000 square feet. There is only one bathroom and no good place to add another. The kitchen boasts a mere 16 square feet of counter space and no room for any eat-in situation. The bedroom closets are mercifully deep for the age of the home, but let me emphasize the impact of that qualifier. Our lot, standard for the area, is 30x100 feet. On one side, our house sits two feet from the property line, and our neighbor's house about five feet beyond it. We could speak to each other from our living rooms, if we wanted.
8-4-17 Dogs’ friendly genes
Dogs’ friendly genes
t’s a question that has beguiled scientists and pet owners for years: Why are dogs so innately friendly? New studies suggest the answer may lie in a mutation in doggie DNA that is also found in a rare human disease that makes people extremely friendly. The researchers believe that as dogs evolved from wolves over thousands of years, humans encouraged the proliferation of this genetic change in the dog population through breeding. Scientists from Oregon State University conducted a series of experiments with 18 dogs and 10 captive wolves, in which the animals had to solve a puzzle when they were alone, with someone they knew, or with a stranger. The wolves consistently outperformed the dogs and remained more focused on their task, whereas the dogs became distracted by people. Researchers at Princeton then pinpointed differences in two genes in the two sets of animals; these same two genes have been linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans, which causes overly friendly behavior. Researcher Monique Udell says Williams-Beuren delays cognitive development in humans, but works for the dogs because they have learned to get what they need from people. “The very things that make life challenging for a human,” she tells The New York Times, “may make dogs successful.”
8-3-17 We may finally be able to slow Parkinson’s, with a diabetes drug
We may finally be able to slow Parkinson’s, with a diabetes drug
A drug for type 2 diabetes seems to also work on the causes of Parkinson’s, not just the symptoms, suggesting the two conditions work in a similar way. A diabetes drug can slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, and seems to target the underlying cause of the condition, not just its symptoms. The finding adds weight to the theory that the two conditions work in a similar way. Parkinson’s disease leads to the loss of brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that helps control body movements. Standard treatments for the condition try to replace the missing dopamine. “That goes a good way to improving symptom control, but it does nothing for the underlying disease pathology,” says Tom Foltynie of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. There is still no cure for Parkinson’s. While replacing dopamine can improve the tremors and stiffness, it doesn’t stop the brain from continuing to deteriorate. In an attempt to slow this, Foltynie and his colleagues have turned to a drug typically used to treat type 2 diabetes, called exenatide. This drug comes from a class of compounds originally isolated from the venom of a lizard called the gila monster. Not only can these help control blood sugar levels – which is useful for people with diabetes – this kind of drug also seems to protect neurons from toxins.
8-3-17 CRISPR skin grafts could replace insulin injections for diabetes
CRISPR skin grafts could replace insulin injections for diabetes
Skin grafts of gene-edited cells have boosted insulin levels in mice, and protected them from gaining weight and developing diabetes under a high-fat diet. Genetically modified skin grafts have protected mice from developing diabetes, suggesting the technique may help people with the condition. The method makes use of the gene that encodes a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone decreases appetite and helps regulate blood sugar levels by triggering the release of insulin, which removes excess glucose from the blood. However, the hormone only works for a short period. To tackle this, Xiaoyang Wu at the University of Chicago, Illinois, and his colleagues used CRISPR gene-editing to alter the GLP-1 gene so it would make a hormone that is active in the blood for longer. They then inserted this gene into mouse skin cells in a dish, and developed them into skin grafts that could be transplanted onto mice, letting the modified hormone get into their blood. The grafts were given to mice that were fed a high-fat diet. These mice went on to gain around half as much weight as those not given grafts, and developed less resistance to insulin. High insulin resistance is a common precursor to type 2 diabetes. The researchers gained similar results when they made the grafts out of human skin and transplanted them onto hairless mice.
8-3-17 Hot yoga classes reduce emotional eating and negative thoughts
Hot yoga classes reduce emotional eating and negative thoughts
There’s growing evidence that yoga can help with symptoms of depression, suggesting the practice might complement talking therapies and antidepressants. Yoga seems to reduce symptoms of depression, including focusing on negative feelings and emotional eating, suggesting the practice may be a useful complement to talking therapies and antidepressant drugs. As yoga has become a popular way for people to exercise and relieve stress, researchers have tried to understand the ways in which it might benefit our health. So far there seems to be a link between meditation, which is at the core of many yoga styles, and boosted insulin production and slower cellular ageing. Yoga may also dampen down inflammation genes. Other studies have found links between inflammation and depression, and researchers are now finding concrete evidence for what many feel: that yoga helps relieve stress and depression. In a study of 52 women with signs of depression, including high stress levels and unhealthy dieting patterns, Lindsey Hopkins at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Sarah Shallit at the Alliant International University in San Francisco found that those who tried Bikram hot yoga experienced significant improvements. For the study 27 women attended two classes a week for eight weeks, while a control group of 25 did no yoga at all. By the end of the study, the average decrease in stress and emotional eating in those who attended classes was almost three times that of the women who’d done no yoga at all. Based on how the participants described their experience, the team found that the yoga group also focused less on negative feelings and their causes, and were better at not suppressing positive emotions.
8-3-17 It took 2000 years to make seed for America’s famous ‘corn belt’
It took 2000 years to make seed for America’s famous ‘corn belt’
Maize reached the southern US 4000 years ago, but wasn’t farmed in cooler areas until 2000 years later – because it took that long to develop cool-hardy strains. Maize first arrived in the lowlands of the south-west US 4000 years ago – but it was another 2000 years before farmers living in the region’s highlands began growing it routinely. Now we think we know why: it took millennia to select varieties of the crop that flowered early. This is a necessary trait to make the most of the shorter growing season in the cooler, higher altitude conditions. In the face of rapid global warming, however, we will probably have to use genetic engineering to help maize adapt quickly enough to cope with today’s challenging growing conditions. In the 1970s, archaeologists unearthed 15 1900-year-old maize or corn cobs at a site in Utah called Turkey Pen Shelter that, with an elevation of 1800 metres, is at a relatively high altitude. Now, Kelly Swarts at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and her colleagues have extracted and sequenced DNA from the ancient cobs. By comparing the genetic sequences with more than 2500 modern lines of maize from a global collection, they were able to predict the flowering times of the ancient maize. The ancient maize seemed to flower about a week earlier than modern warm desert-adapted forms, putting it broadly in line with the flowering times of maize grown today in higher altitude, cooler parts of the south-west US. This is the first time that this kind of complex trait – flowering time – has been successfully reconstructed from ancient samples and then validated using modern plants.
8-3-17 Space cucumbers may help plants grow better water-seeking roots
Space cucumbers may help plants grow better water-seeking roots
Away from Earth’s gravity, cucumber roots head towards water. Mimicking that moisture-seeking behaviour on our planet could help plants adapt to drought. Cucumber seeds grown on board the International Space Station show an unusually strong tendency to grow towards water. This finding might help us engineer more drought-tolerant crops suitable for cultivation on Earth. Plant growth is strongly influenced by the environment: stems grow up towards the sun, while roots grow down under the influence of gravity – an effect called gravitropism. But in space, Earth’s gravitational pull is much less pronounced. Back in 1998, Hideyuki Takahashi of Tohoku University, Japan, began investigating how plant roots behave in these unusual conditions. Through an experiment on the space shuttle Discovery, his team accidently discovered that roots bend if they grow in microgravity. Takahashi and his colleagues wondered whether the roots were bending in response to small variations in the humidity of their environment and so showing a “hydrotropic” response – growing towards water rather than with gravity. “The hypothesis is, in microgravity, the hydrotropic response will become pronounced,” he says. To investigate further, the researchers sent cucumber seeds into space aboard the space shuttles Atlantis and Discovery in 2010. Japanese and US astronauts performed a series of experiments on the International Space Station, and the seedlings came back to Earth in 2011. Onboard the ISS, the seeds were grown in a small chamber with wet filter paper on one side to set up a moisture gradient. Some of the seeds were allowed to grow in the ISS’s microgravity environment, others were grown inside a centrifuge to simulate Earth’s gravity.
8-3-17 Giant armored dinosaur may have cloaked itself in camouflage
Giant armored dinosaur may have cloaked itself in camouflage
Coloration suggests some Cretaceous predators relied more on sight than smell to hunt. An armored dinosaur found in Alberta might have had countershading camouflage, with its back darker than its belly. Sometimes body armor just isn’t enough. A car-sized dinosaur covered in bony plates may have sported camo, too, researchers report online August 3 in Current Biology. That could mean the Cretaceous-period herbivore was a target for predators that relied on sight more than smell to find prey. The dinosaur, dubbed Borealopelta markmitchelli, has already made headlines for being one of the best preserved armored dinosaurs ever unearthed. It was entombed on its back some 110 million years ago under layers of fine marine sediments that buried the animal very quickly — ideal preservation conditions, says study coauthor Caleb Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Canada. The fossil, found in Alberta in 2011, captured not only large amounts of skin and soft tissue but also the animal’s three-dimensional shape. “Most of the other armored dinosaurs are described based on the skeleton. In this case, we can't see the skeleton because all the skin is still there,” Brown says. That skin contains clues to the dinosaur’s appearance, including its coloration. “We’re just beginning to realize how important color is, and we’re beginning to have the methods to detect color” in fossils, says Martin Sander, a paleontologist at Bonn University in Germany who wasn’t part of the study.
8-3-17 Hidden cancers detected by combining genetic tests with MRI
Hidden cancers detected by combining genetic tests with MRI
If genetic screening says you’re predisposed to cancer, what can you do about it? Whole-body scans could be a way to find tumours before they turn deadly. Combining genomic screening with whole-body scans has identified 16 hidden tumours in 30 people. The technique should help identify curable cancers in people who are genetically at-risk and save lives. Advances in reading and understanding the genome have made it easier to identify people who are particularly susceptible to cancer. For example, people with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are more likely to get breast cancer. But often this information isn’t particularly helpful. While some women with BRCA mutations opt for pre-emptive breast removal, there is little that can be done about some other genetic susceptibilities. One of these, caused by mutations in a gene called tumour protein p53 (TP53), is present in around 1 in 10,000 people. It greatly increases the chances of getting a range of cancers, including in the breast and brain. About half the people who have such mutations develop a cancer by the age of 30. “Genomics is revealing patterns of mutations that increase cancer susceptibility anywhere in the body, not just in one particular organ, but we haven’t known what to do with this information because how do you screen everything?” says David Thomas at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. “That’s where whole-body MRI could help.” A team led by Thomas and his colleague Mandy Ballinger has found that such screening of people at genetic risk can detect hidden tumours before they turn deadly.
8-3-17 Cancer runs in my family, but now we can pick it up in time
Cancer runs in my family, but now we can pick it up in time
When Natalie Coutts found out she was genetically predisposed to cancer, she was devastated. But regular screens for early tumours now let her feel in control. When Natalie Coutts’ nephew, sister and uncle died from cancer in the space of five years, doctors were puzzled. They seemed far too young – her nephew, who died of a brain tumour, was only 6. Her sister died at just 29 from soft-tissue cancer, and her uncle at 49 from pancreatic cancer. “The doctors told us, ‘It isn’t normal for so many young people in one family to pass away from cancer’,” says Coutts, who is now 41 and lives in Melbourne. When some of her relatives underwent genetic testing in the early 2000s, they discovered they had Li-Fraumeni syndrome – a rare hereditary condition caused by mutations in a gene called TP53. The mutations, which occur in about 1 in 10,000 people, greatly increase cancer susceptibility. Half of carriers develop cancer by the age of 30, and the overall lifetime risk is almost 100 per cent. Coutts’ father – who recently died of leukaemia – turned out to be a carrier. So did her aunt, who recently lost her life to lung cancer. Two of her siblings also tested positive – one remains cancer-free and the other died of other causes. For a long time, Coutts was unsure about doing the genetic test. “I um-ed and ah-ed for five years,” she says. “When you don’t know, you can cling on to the possibility that you might be negative,” she says. “But that limbo is also very unpleasant, so in the end, I decided I needed to know.” When she finally took the test in 2009, at the age of 33, she was confirmed as having a TP53 mutation. “It was absolutely devastating,” she says.
8-3-17 How to recover from tragedy
How to recover from tragedy
Sage advice from people who have felt your pain. I'd love to start with witty jokes, but we're talking tragedy here, so brace yourself. This story isn't comforting. On May 1st, 2015, while vacationing in Mexico, Sheryl Sandberg found her husband Dave dead in the hotel gym. He was only in his 40s. He had not been ill. It was totally unexpected. They had 2 children together. When the greatest of tragedies strikes, how do you keep going? Sheryl didn't know. She turned to her friend, Wharton professor Adam Grant, who told her about the research regarding resilience and overcoming life's greatest struggles. There was no quick answer to dealing with the pain — but there were things she could do to get past it faster and come out stronger. Her journey, and the lessons from the research, are explained in the book the two have co-authored: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. And these answers can help you. Whether you're dealing with loss, failure, or any of the other great challenges of life, there are things you can do to improve your situation. If you need this information now, you have my sympathy. And if you don't need this now, it's a good idea to learn these lessons anyway, because we will all face pain at some point.
- Avoid personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence: It's not all your fault, it won't affect every area of your life, and the pain will subside with time.
- Ask "How much worse could it have been?": Sheryl lost her husband. Adam reminded her that she could have lost her children too. It can always be worse. It's not. Be grateful.
- Get support: Talk to someone, preferably someone who has dealt with a similar problem.
- Write about it: Thinking about it makes it worse. Writing about it makes it better.
8-3-17 One day without notifications changes behaviour for two years
One day without notifications changes behaviour for two years
Turning off phone notifications for 24 hours amped anxiety, but raised productivity. Two years on, the experience is still helping people call the shots. Look at me! Look at me! There’s no denying apps are needy. Every time you glance at your phone there’s another demand for your attention. Apps don’t even care if you’re already using one of their brethren, ruthlessly jockeying to get you to switch your focus. So why not just turn them off? To try this, Martin Pielot of Spanish telecommunications firm Telefónica and Luz Rello of Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, decided to create the Do Not Disturb Challenge – one week without notifications. “But we couldn’t recruit anybody to take part,” says Pielot. “We just got empty, horrified stares. And so eventually we backed down to 24 hours.” Although a day without notifications might not seem that long, it was enough for the 30 participants to notice some sizeable effects. People worried they were being less responsive and were generally more anxious about what they were missing. On the flip side, they were less distracted and more productive. The biggest indicator of how stressful someone would find the experience was the social expectation on them. “If people don’t think of you as likely to respond quickly, you were unlikely to feel stressed during the challenge, but if you have a boss who expects a quick response, then things were different,” says Pielot.
8-3-17 DNA clue to origins of early Greek civilization
DNA clue to origins of early Greek civilization
DNA is shedding light on the people who built Greece's earliest civilizations. Researchers analysed genetic data from skeletons dating to the Bronze Age, a period marked by the emergence of writing, complex urban planning and magnificent art and architecture. These ancient Aegean people were mostly descended from farmers who had settled the region thousands of years earlier. But they showed signs of genetic - and possibly cultural - contact with people to the north and to the east. Dr Iosif Lazaridis, from Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, and colleagues focussed on burials from the Minoan civilization, which flourished on the island of Crete from 2,600 to 1,100 BC, and the Mycenaean culture, which was existed across Greece from 1,600 -1,100 BC. "They're important because they are the first known civilizations in Europe that had writing and a level of complexity that was not present in earlier cultures... It's always been a puzzle: where did these people come from and how did they create this amazing culture," Dr Lazaridis told BBC News. "With ancient DNA we can now begin to answer this question." Dr Lazaridis explained that most of the people who created these civilizations appear to be local - deriving between 62% and 86% of their ancestry from people who introduced agriculture to Europe from Anatolia (modern Turkey) in Neolithic times, starting from about 7,000 years ago. But the Bronze Age Mycenaean and Minoan skeletons revealed ancestry from populations originating in either the Caucasus mountains or Iran. Between 9% and 17% of their genetic make-up came from this source.
8-3-17 Armoured tank-like dino used camouflage to hide
Armoured tank-like dino used camouflage to hide
A new species of mega-herbivore dinosaur discovered in Alberta, Canada, preserves incredible details of its skin, scales and spines. The exquisite specimen is a type of amour-plated nodosaurid ankylosaur. It was camouflaged which suggests that, despite its tank-like appearance, it hid to avoid predation. That such a large creature needed camouflage indicates the presence of even larger, keen-eyed meat-eating theropod dinosaurs. A new species of dinosaur named Borealopelta markmitchelli has been discovered from an oil sand mine in Alberta, Canada, and is described this week in Current Biology. The dinosaur is a nodosaurid ankylosaur and is perhaps the best preserved of its type ever found, as Dr Jakob Vinther, University of Bristol, UK, who co-authored the study describes: "This dinosaur is so complete it looks like it's asleep and we would just need to gently cough to wake it up," he said. This group of dinosaurs was stout, tank-like and heavily armoured. They walked on short-legs and their teeth indicate that they were herbivorous. The new specimen is 5.5m long, and weighed 1,300kg when alive.
8-3-17 The genetic breakthrough that could change humanity, explained
The genetic breakthrough that could change humanity, explained
A new genetic technology called CRISPR may enable scientists to make permanent changes in a person's DNA. Here's everything you need to know: It's a revolutionary gene-editing technique that enables scientists to snip out a piece of any organism's DNA cheaply, quickly, and precisely — cutting and editing the code of life the way a film editor would splice an old film reel. Developed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012, CRISPR offers great promise, because it could provide a true cure for debilitating hereditary diseases such as Huntington's, muscular dystrophy, and sickle-cell anemia. But it is different from traditional forms of gene therapy in one key sense: CRISPR can be used to edit genes on the human germ line, so that those changes are passed down through generations — permanently altering the human gene pool. That capability has given new urgency to theoretical discussions about designer babies, mutants, and scientists "playing God." In December, an international group of scientists called for an immediate moratorium on inheritable human genome editing until CRISPR's risks have been assessed. "Everything I've learned here says we're not ready to be doing this yet," said Nobel Prize–winning biologist David Baltimore.
- What is CRISPR?
- How does CRISPR work?
- How so?
- What happened in China?
- What are scientists' biggest fears?
- Will there be a moratorium?
- Return of the woolly mammoth?
8-2-17 First results from US CRISPR gene editing on human embryos
First results from US CRISPR gene editing on human embryos
The revolutionary CRISPR genome editing technique could be used safely to prevent some genetic diseases, according to the first embryo study conducted in the US. THE results from the first CRISPR experiments done in the US on human embryos are now out, although the gene-editing technique has already been used in several human embryo studies conducted in China. Shoukhrat Mitalipov at Oregon Health and Science University and his colleagues used CRISPR to target a genetic mutation that causes thickening of the heart wall. The disorder can lead to heart failure, and is often behind the sudden deaths of apparently healthy young athletes. “We are still far away from doing CRISPR gene editing in the clinic, but this work takes us closer” For the study, the researchers recruited a male volunteer who carries the mutation. He provided the sperm to fertilise donated egg cells and create embryos. Unlike in other similar experiments, the team injected the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing machinery while the eggs were being fertilised. They say this approach prevented mosaicism – a situation in which some of an embryo’s cells carry the edited gene, but the “problem” gene remains intact in other cells. The team also found no evidence of unwanted edits elsewhere in the embryos (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature23305). Such “off-target” mutations are another reason why some researchers have expressed concern over using the technique in people. (Webmaster's comment: But notice who did it first, the Chinese.)
8-2-17 Gene editing of human embryos gets rid of a mutation that causes heart failure
Gene editing of human embryos gets rid of a mutation that causes heart failure
Success in correcting DNA defect inches use of CRISPR closer to clinical trial. CRISPR/Cas9 has corrected a gene defect in fertilized human eggs (left) without hampering embryo development. Eight-cell embryos and blastocyst-stage embryos — about five days old — carrying the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editor appear normal. For the first time in the United States, researchers have used gene editing to repair a mutation in human embryos. Molecular scissors known as CRISPR/Cas9 corrected a gene defect that can lead to heart failure. The gene editor fixed the mutation in about 72 percent of tested embryos, researchers report August 2 in Nature. That repair rate is much higher than expected. Work with skin cells reprogrammed to mimic embryos had suggested the mutation would be repaired in fewer than 30 percent of cells. In addition, the researchers discovered a technical advance that may limit the production of patchwork embryos that aren’t fully edited. That’s important if CRISPR/Cas9 will ever be used to prevent genetic diseases, says study coauthor Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive and developmental biologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. If even one cell in an early embryo is unedited, “that’s going to screw up the whole process,” says Mitalipov. He worked with colleagues in Oregon, California, Korea and China to develop the embryo-editing methods.
8-2-17 Human embryos edited to stop disease
Human embryos edited to stop disease
Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families. It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations. The US and South Korean team allowed the embryos to develop for five days before stopping the experiment. The study hints at the future of medicine, but also provokes deep questions about what is morally right. Science is going through a golden age in editing DNA thanks to a new technology called Crispr, named breakthrough of the year in just 2015. Its applications in medicine are vast and include the idea of wiping out genetic faults that cause diseases from cystic fibrosis to breast cancer. US teams at Oregon Health and Science University and the Salk Institute along with the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea focused on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The disorder is common, affecting one in every 500 people, and can lead to the heart suddenly stopping beating. It is caused by an error in a single gene (an instruction in the DNA), and anyone carrying it has a 50-50 chance of passing it on to their children. In the study, described in the journal Nature, the genetic repair happened during conception. Sperm from a man with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was injected into healthy donated eggs alongside Crispr technology to correct the defect. It did not work all the time, but 72% of embryos were free from disease-causing mutations.
8-2-17 Eradicating rabies: Why man’s best friend holds the key
Eradicating rabies: Why man’s best friend holds the key
If we rid dogs of rabies, the disease could be gone from humans for good, says Clare Wilson. A CHILD dying of rabies is a particularly dreadful thing,” says Neil Kennedy, a paediatrician from Belfast, UK. Kennedy last treated a person with rabies in Malawi in East Africa. The patient was a 10-year-old boy he calls David, who had been brought to the hospital after several bouts of delirium. Soon David began to show the telltale sign of the disease: being unable to swallow water and even his own saliva, leaving him foaming at the mouth. All that could be done was to keep him hydrated with a drip and sedated for the few days it took him to die. The manner of death was horrible, but even worse was the knowledge that it was completely needless, says Kennedy. Rabies is one of the most lethal infectious diseases known to humankind. Once symptoms appear, it is almost always fatal. It kills 60,000 people a year, and disproportionately affects children. Almost all the deaths are in Africa and Asia, where people lack access to the vaccine and treatment. Yet it may be possible to nearly eliminate human deaths from rabies – not by treating people, or tackling the many wild species that carry the disease, but by targeting dogs. Several small-scale trials suggest that this should make elimination possible in just a few years. If such an approach works, rabies would become only the third infectious disease to be eliminated, after smallpox and cattle disease rinderpest. “It’s going to take a sustained effort for several years, but this is definitely achievable,” says Kennedy.
8-2-17 Tardigrade genomes help explain how they survive without water
Tardigrade genomes help explain how they survive without water
TARDIGRADES are spilling more secrets about their seeming invincibility. Genetic analysis of the tiny creatures, also known as water bears, is helping to unlock the mystery of how they can survive desiccation, and may also help 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, killing the cells. 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 tardigrade-specific proteins. These help the insides of the cells avoid damage by maintaining their shape even in the absence of water. However, 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 the species might dry out. R. varieornatus is often found in moss on concrete roads, where the animal can become desiccated within 30 minutes, while H. dujardini lives in ponds where it might take 24 to 48 hours to dry out. 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 (PLoS Biology, doi.org/b93j).
8-2-17 Can being married make you healthier?
Can being married make you healthier?
Scientists used to believe that was the case. Not anymore. There are upsides and downsides to getting married, but at least one of the perks has remained pretty consistent over time: People who tie the knot tend to be healthier than their unmarried counterparts. As recently as last month, research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference reported that single people with "modifiable risk factors" like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure have significantly higher mortality rates than married people with the same conditions. Marriage has been linked to a longer life span, fewer heart attacks and strokes, and a lower risk of depression. Of course, the stats aren't 100 percent positive: Marriage has also been linked to an increased risk of weight gain. And not all studies have come to the same conclusions, especially those where participants self-report on their own health. While older research in this vein has generally shown a strong association between good health and marriage, more recent work has suggests that this protective effect is weakening — and a new study published recently in the journal Social Science Quarterly suggests that it no longer exists at all. The study, a comparison of married people born between 1955 and 1984, shows that while older generations see improved overall health with marriage, the effect has deteriorated over time. Married people only had the edge in relationships that had lasted 10 years or more, and only among women — an effect that "was completely attenuated among women in the youngest birth cohort," wrote study author Dmitry Tumin, a sociology researcher at the Ohio State University. Compared to their never-married counterparts, the youngest cohort didn't experience any protective effect with marriage.
8-2-17 On the trail of dragons with blood that can save people’s lives
On the trail of dragons with blood that can save people’s lives
The gigantic Komodo dragons of Indonesia have been known to kill people – but their blood is rich with peptides that may destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria. On the Indonesian island of Komodo, monsters reminiscent of the age of the dinosaurs roam the jungles and beaches. “Ora buaya darat,” my guide Dullah whispers in the local tongue as he points in respectful awe at the 90-kilogram male lumbering towards me. “Komodo dragons.” At up to 3 metres long, the Komodo is the world’s largest species of lizard, a true relic of a bygone era. I’ve been warned that the creatures are hard to locate – even though I’m on the island at the peak of dragon breeding season. But we’re lucky this morning. In May, a tourist from Singapore travelling with Dullah wasn’t so fortunate. He went off on his own against the guide’s advice, and ended up getting a dragon bite on his leg that shattered bone. “Stay close,” Dullah warns, armed only with a long stick forked at the end like the dragon’s tongue. The dragon watches me with cold, dark eyes, tasting the air with a hissing yellow tongue that conceals rows of needle-sharp teeth and bacteria-strewn saliva. It’s hard to imagine these lizards as anything but a significant threat to human life – and they do occasionally kill people. But in a strange twist, dragon blood is now emerging as a valuable resource that may be one of our best hopes for curing diseases we can’t seem to beat. If only that Singaporean were so lucky.
8-2-17 French dig unearths 'little Pompeii' near Lyon
French dig unearths 'little Pompeii' near Lyon
The ruins of an ancient Roman neighbourhood of luxury homes and vast public spaces have been found by archaeologists in south-eastern France. "This is undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years," team leader Benjamin Clément told AFP news agency. The site in Vienne, near Lyon, was abandoned after fires, leaving a "real little Pompeii", he said. Vienne, on the River Rhone, is already famous for a Roman theatre and temple. The city, which became a Roman colony in about 47 BC, flourished under the Caesars. The new site in modern-day Vienne was discovered during preliminary work to build new housing in the suburb of Sainte-Colombe, on the right bank of the river, but remains have now been uncovered on both banks.
8-1-17 IVF babies tend to be lighter than others but end up heavier
IVF babies tend to be lighter than others but end up heavier
The first IVF baby was born 39 years ago, but we are only now learning about the long-term effects of the technique, which may raise a person’s obesity risk. Since the first “test tube” baby arrived 39 years ago, an estimated 6.5 million children have been born thanks to IVF and similar techniques. But we are only just starting to learn about the long-term health of people conceived using assisted reproduction techniques (ART), who may have a higher risk of obesity in later life. “Today, 1 in every 30 babies in Japan is conceived by ART,” says Tomoya Hasegawa of Tokyo Medical University. IVF babies are usually healthy, but tend to have a lower birth weight. Large studies that didn’t look at conception method have previously found that low birth weight is linked to adult obesity and diabetes. To investigate further, Heleen Zandstra of Maastricht Medical Centre, the Netherlands, and her team have been comparing the effects of using two different culture media to support the growth of early IVF embryos. Earlier they had found that one of these was associated with babies that were 112 grams lighter at birth than those beginning life in the other medium. “That’s a big difference, considering babies only weigh about 3 kilograms,” says Zandstra. Now the team have followed up on these babies at the age of 9, recording the height, weight and fat mass of 136 children, as well as their blood pressure and heart rate. They were surprised to find that, while children conceived using each type of culture medium were around the same height, the BMI of the group that had been lighter at birth was an average of 0.9 lower than those who had been heavier babies. “There was a difference in weight of 2 kilograms,” says Zandstra.
8-1-17 Eating a lower calorie diet improves learning ability in worms
Eating a lower calorie diet improves learning ability in worms
Calorie-restricted diets have already been linked to longer lifespans in flies, mice and monkeys. Now a study has found that eating less can boost learning. Eating less can sharpen your thinking – if you’re a worm, at least. We already had an inkling of the benefits of calorie restriction, such as greater longevity in flies, mice and monkeys. Now Kaveh Ashrafi at the University of California, San Francisco, has found it may also boost the brain. His team trained Caenorhabditis elegans roundworms to associate the scent of a chemical, butanone, with a food reward. The proportion of worms that migrated from the centre of a circle to one side laced with butanone, rather than the opposite side that smelled of alcohol, showed how well they had learned this lesson. The worms tested had either eaten freely, or fasted for 1 hour, or had a calorie-restricted diet. The proportion of worms on a diet of half the normal calories that migrated was double that for those allowed to eat freely. The same was true for the worms that had fasted, suggesting low-calorie diets and short-term fasts have similar effects. Eating fewer calories may work by depleting a brain chemical called kynurenic acid, which in turn activates neurons involved in learning. When the team reduced kynurenic acid, the worms’ learning improved without calorie restriction. There are signs of a similar phenomenon in mammals, says Ashrafi. A 2008 study found that people around the age of 60 who cut their calories by 30 per cent were better at learning lists of words.
8-1-17 Voyage to study Earth’s mostly submerged hidden continent begins
Voyage to study Earth’s mostly submerged hidden continent begins
The research ship JOIDES Resolution is on its way to take samples from Zealandia, a continent that lies mostly below the waves. This week, geologists will reach, and drill into, Zealandia – dubbed the world’s hidden continent by geologists earlier this year. Zealandia is a 4.9-million-square-kilometre region of continental crust to the east of Australia, 90 per cent of which is submerged. Just New Zealand and New Caledonia poke above the water line. “This is the first dedicated drilling expedition to understand the history of this mostly submerged region,” says Gerald Dickens of Rice University in Houston, Texas, co-chief scientist on research ship JOIDES Resolution. The ship left the Australian port of Townsville on 30 July. It will spend two months at sea and drill at six sites before sailing to Hobart, Tasmania, in September. “We’re about halfway to the first drill site, called Lord Howe Rise, and should reach it on Thursday afternoon, Australian time,” said Dickens. Zealandia became a separate continent 85 million years ago – its crust becoming pulled thin in the process, which later led it to sink below the waves. Then, 50 million years ago, the Pacific plate dived beneath Zealandia, pushing what is now New Zealand above the water, and creating an arc of volcanoes. “We’re looking at the best place in the world to understand how plate subduction initiates,” says Dickens.
8-1-17 Signs of Alzheimer’s found in chimpanzees for the first time
Signs of Alzheimer’s found in chimpanzees for the first time
Our closest evolutionary relatives develop Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles too but don’t necessarily get dementia - a finding that may need to new treatments. We may not be alone in our struggle against Alzheimer’s disease. For the first time, the plaques and tangles that characterise the condition have been found in the brains of elderly chimpanzees, although it is unclear if they cause dementia in the animals. In the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, a protein called beta-amyloid accumulates and forms sticky plaques between brain cells. These plaques trigger changes in another protein called tau, causing it to form tangles. Together, these plaques and tangles are thought to kill brain cells, leading to dementia. It is difficult to study the disease and develop treatments for it because other species seem not to develop plaques and tangles. The only time they’ve both been seen in another animal’s brain was in a 41-year-old chimpanzee, but they were thought to be the result of a stroke. But Melissa Edler, now at Northeast Ohio Medical University, and her colleagues have had the rare chance to study 20 brains from older chimpanzees, aged between 37 and 62. The team examined four areas of the chimps’ neocortex and hippocampus – brain regions most commonly affected by Alzheimer’s in humans. They discovered beta-amyloid plaques and early forms of tau tangles coexisting in 12 of the chimp brains and, as in humans, they saw increasingly larger volumes of plaques in the chimp brains of more advanced age (Neurobiology of Aging, DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2017.07.006).
8-1-17 A new portrait of the world’s first flower is unveiled
A new portrait of the world’s first flower is unveiled
Reconstruction of sex organs and petallike parts gives clues to ancient flowers’ origin. A 3-D reconstruction reveals what the first flowers may have looked like. Female reproductive organs, male reproductive organs, and petallike structures are shown. Our view of the earliest flowers just bloomed. A new reconstruction, the most detailed to date, suggests the flowers were bisexual, with more than five female reproductive organs, or carpels, and more than 10 male reproductive organs, or stamen. Petallike structures, grouped in sets of three, surrounded the sex organs, researchers report August 1 in Nature Communications. Flowering plants comprise roughly 90 percent of plants on Earth. Researchers think they evolved from a common ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. But it has been hard to reconstruct the structure of such ancient blooms because so few fossils have been found.
8-1-17 Did the first flower look like this?
Did the first flower look like this?
All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago, a study suggests. Scientists combined models of flower evolution with the largest data set of features from living flowers ever assembled. From this the team was able to infer the appearance of the ancestral flower. The flower had many concentric cycles of petal-like organs in sets of three, arranged in whorls, and was bisexual. Hervé Sauquet, from Université Paris-Sud, France, one of the authors of the paper published this week in Nature Communications said: "There is no living flower that looks exactly like the ancestral one - and why should there be? This is a flower that existed at least 140 million years ago and has had considerable time to evolve into the incredible diversity of flowers that exist today."
8-1-17 This is what the first flower on Earth might have looked like
This is what the first flower on Earth might have looked like
Some time between 250 and 140 million years ago, the very first flower bloomed – an enormous evolutionary study offers clues about its appearance. Three was the magic number for the very first flowering plant. The largest study into their early evolution has concluded that its flowers probably had petal-like tepals and pollen-bearing stamens arranged in layered whorls of three. It bore similarities with magnolias, buttercups and laurels – but was unlike any living flower. The origin of flowering plants and their rapid conquest of the world’s habitats has been a puzzle for nearly a century and a half. In 1879, Charles Darwin described it as an “abominable mystery” that flowers had evolved so late in the history of life yet were still able to take over from the more ancient seed-bearing pines and cycads. Today, flowering plants account for nine out of every 10 plants – meaning they far outnumber the once-dominant seed plants like conifers that emerged between 350 and 310 million years ago. Studying their evolutionary roots is tricky, though: the delicacy of flowers means they rarely become fossilised. The oldest so far discovered is the 130- million-year-old aquatic plant Montsechia vidalii unearthed in Spain in 2015. However it is thought that flowering plants first appeared much earlier than this, sometime between 250 and 140 million years ago.