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108 Evolution News Articles
for February 2018
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2-28-18 Unicorns and designer babies: How CRISPR creator sees the future
Jennifer Doudna's discovery of the CRISPR technique gives us unprecedented power over life itself. We can handle the challenge – despite Hollywood portrayals, she says. “It was one of those moments of pure joy,” says Jennifer Doudna. “The joy of suddenly understanding something.” In 2012, Doudna’s team made one of the biggest discoveries in the history of biology: how to edit the DNA in living cells with relative ease. In essence, it gives humans the power to direct evolution. It wasn’t what the team had set out to do, but they realised immediately that CRISPR gene editing had immense potential. So did the rest of the world. Just six years on, it has already been used to help treat cancer and to alter the DNA of many plants and animals – including that of human embryos. Doudna, who until then had worked on relatively obscure biochemical mysteries, suddenly found herself in a prominent position, with reporters phoning up asking for her opinion on the latest developments. “It makes me feel very humble,” she says. “I’m this girl from rural Hawaii who took on this role. It’s kind of bizarre.” Doudna’s upbringing in Hawaii sparked her interest in biology. She was fascinated by the way plants and animals had evolved in an island setting. Her father, meanwhile, passed on a liking for puzzles. “I loved the idea of being able to have one’s career be focused around figuring out how things work.” The discovery of CRISPR gene editing was the culmination of a working life spent uncovering the secrets of RNA. At Yale, her group worked out the three-dimensional structure of a key RNA enzyme, cracking a major scientific puzzle. Her group at the University of California, Berkeley, was interested in the CRISPR Cas9 protein because it is guided by RNA. No one understood how it worked until her team solved the mystery in 2012. Over the next few years, CRISPR took the scien

2-28-18 Probiotics and fish oil in pregnancy may reduce child allergies
Probiotic and fish oil supplements have been linked to a lower likelihood of eczema and some food allergies, but pregnant women should still avoid cod liver oil. An analysis of data from 1.5 million mothers suggests that taking some supplements during pregnancy may protect future children from allergies, while avoiding nuts doesn’t seem to have any effect. “Our research suggests probiotic and fish oil supplements may reduce a child’s risk of developing an allergic condition, and these findings need to be considered when guidelines for pregnant women are updated,” says Robert Boyle, of Imperial College London. His team’s analysis found that a daily fish oil capsule taken after the twentieth week of pregnancy and for the first three to four months of breastfeeding cut the chances of a child developing an egg allergy by 30 per cent. Eczema risk was 22 per cent lower in children whose mothers took a probiotic supplement between 36 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. One theory for rising allergies in western countries is that we now encounter a less diverse range of microbes. Probiotics contain live bacteria, so it may be that taking these during pregnancy or breastfeeding may help a child’s immune system.

2-28-18 Bacteria on our bodies may be protecting us from skin cancer
We are covered in bacteria, but some of it is good for us. One strain makes a molecule that protects against skin cancer and shrinks tumours in mice. Your skin is crawling with bacteria – and some of them could be protecting you from cancer. That’s what Teruaki Nakatsuji at the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues found when they took a closer look at the friendly bacteria that makes a home on our skin. “The human skin has almost a million bacteria per square centimetre,” says Nakatsuji. Some of these are thought to have an important role in health, with some species linked to disorders like eczema. But some skin bacteria seem to be good for us. When Nakatsuji’s team cultured skin bacteria from volunteers, they found that many were able to produce anti-bacterial proteins when they were introduced to harmful bacteria. A strain of one species, Staphylococcus epidermidis, also made a molecule that has a similar structure to a drug that is used to treat blood cancer. When the team applied this chemical – called 6-HAP – to a range of cancer cells it killed them. The team then gave mice with skin tumours injections of this chemical every 48 hours, for two weeks. Compared to mice given saline injections, “the tumour size was suppressed by 60 per cent,” says Nakatsuji.

2-28-18 Human skin bacteria have cancer-fighting powers
The microbes make a compound that disrupts DNA formation in tumor cells. Certain skin-dwelling microbes may be anticancer superheroes, reigning in uncontrolled cell growth. This surprise discovery could one day lead to drugs that treat or maybe even prevent skin cancer. The bacteria’s secret weapon is a chemical compound that stops DNA formation in its tracks. Mice slathered with one strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis that makes the compound developed fewer tumors after exposure to damaging ultraviolet radiation compared with those treated with a strain lacking the compound, researchers report online February 28 in Science Advances. The findings highlight “the potential of the microbiome to influence human disease,” says Lindsay Kalan, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Staphylococcal species are the most numerous of the many bacteria that normally live on human skin. Richard Gallo and his colleagues were investigating the antimicrobial powers of these bacteria when the team discovered a strain of S. epidermidis that made a compound — 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine, or 6-HAP for short — that looked a lot like one of the building blocks of DNA. “Because of that structure, we wondered if it interfered with DNA synthesis,” says Gallo, a physician scientist at the University of California, San Diego. In a test tube experiment, 6-HAP blocked the enzyme that builds DNA chains and prevented the chains from growing.

2-28-18 A new way to make bacteria glow could simplify TB screening
The stain could also speed up tuberculosis drug-resistance tests. A new molecule that reveals active tuberculosis bacteria in coughed-up mucus and saliva could simplify TB diagnoses and speed up tests for detecting strains of the disease that are resistant to drugs. This synthetic molecule is a modified version of a sugar that TB bacteria consume to help build their cell walls. The sugar is tagged with a dye that lights up under a fluorescent microscope — but only if the dye isn’t surrounded by water. Dubbed DMN-Tre, the hybrid molecule stays dark until it enters a fatty, water-repellant layer in a TB bacterium’s cell wall, where it starts to glow, researchers report online February 28 in Science Translational Medicine. Standard tests use dyes that stain a bunch of different bacteria, so technicians have to bleach the dye off everything except the TB cells, says Sumona Datta, a tuberculosis researcher at Imperial College London not involved in the work. But that chemical washing is time-consuming and prone to error. Since DMN-Tre only glows when it’s gobbled up by TB or one of its close relatives, the molecule could offer a simpler, more reliable diagnosis, she says.

2-28-18 Genetically engineered cells can seek and destroy brain cancer
Brain cancers are particularly difficult to treat, but at last there’s hope that a technique that has worked for some other cancers could treat glioblastoma. Brain cancers are particularly difficult to treat, but at last there’s hope that a technique that has worked well for some other cancers could be adapted to treat glioblastoma. There are currently very few options for treating glioblastomas, a type of cancer that forms from the brain’s support cells. On average, a person dies within 15 months of a glioblastoma diagnosis. Now Gianpietro Dotti of the University of North Carolina and his team have had promising results in mice using a technique used for other types of cancer. CAR-T treatments are made by taking ordinary T cells – a type of immune cell – from a person with cancer and genetically engineering them to target and attack cancer cells. The technique was first tried in 2013, curing a person of an otherwise fatal blood cancer within 8 days, but such approaches are not widespread yet, and are more difficult to apply to solid tumours. Dotti’s team may now have managed this for glioblastomas in mice. They have identified a molecule that is on the surface of cells in around two-thirds of glioblastoma tumours, but is not present on healthy cells. They engineered CAR-T cells to target this molecule, and gave them to ten mice that had been given human glioblastoma tumours.

2-28-18 Surprise! Having a big brain really does mean having less muscle
It’s an evolutionary mystery how humans and other primates found the energy to support their large brains, but now it seems sacrificing some muscle might have helped. Did primates opt for brains over brawn? Primate species with larger brains have reduced muscle mass, supporting a controversial theory that energy-hungry brains grew larger by stealing resources from other bodily tissues. Brains are expensive to run. Some estimates suggest every kilogram of brain tissue requires 240 kilocalories each day. As such, many researchers have wondered how primates – particularly humans – find the energy to keep their unusually large brains running. An idea emerged in the mid-1990s: perhaps primates support their large brains by making energy savings elsewhere. In particular, the idea is that primate guts – another “expensive” tissue to run – evolved to be smaller as brains evolved to be larger. But it’s not yet clear that the expensive tissue hypothesis is correct. For instance, in 2011 Karin Isler at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and her colleagues published a study questioning whether animals with big brains really have small guts. Perhaps that’s because there is another piece to the puzzle, says Magdalena Muchlinski at the University of North Texas in Fort Worth. She says muscle – particularly the slow twitch muscle used in sustained activities like long-distance running – is also an expensive tissue. She decided to explore whether primates with big brains have less muscle mass.

2-28-18 Unsafe sex and STIs are rising when they really shouldn’t be
Dating apps, fading fears of HIV and poor education have all been blamed for a rise in sexually transmitted infections. How do we get people to keep it clean?. SEXUALLY transmitted infections are on the march. In Australia, where the figures for 2017 have just been released, rates of syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia are the highest they have been since national recording began in the 1990s. The story is similar in England and the US, where rates of these STIs have been climbing over the last decade (see graphs). This uptick is alarming because these diseases were thought to be on their way out. In the 1940s, penicillin was tipped to eradicate syphilis, as swathes of soldiers infected during the second world war were cured. Gonorrhoea rates also plummeted in the 1980s, as fear of HIV spurred safer sex practices. One factor in the resurgence is simply that we are doing more testing, particularly for chlamydia, says Rebecca Guy at the University of New South Wales in Australia. People with the disease don’t normally show symptoms, but since the first accurate chlamydia test became widely available in the early 2000s, testing has increased, meaning more and more silent infections have been picked up. But that isn’t the whole story, says Nigel Field at University College London. Another driver may be the popularity of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, which make it easier to hook up with more people, he says. That generally isn’t a problem if people use condoms, but online daters appear to be less likely to practise safe sex.

2-28-18 Rich-poor divide in past flu pandemics must guide strategy today
We ignore the social factors that have shaped death rates in flu pandemics over the past century at our peril, warns Laura Spinney. WITH hopes high that the northern hemisphere flu season is about to recede, it seems a good time to point out that, unlike annual outbreaks that fade as spring arrives, flu pandemics don’t respect seasons. A hundred years ago, the worst such pandemic on record was just starting – the first case was recorded on 4 March 1918 – and north of the equator it wouldn’t peak until the autumn. In this centenary year of Spanish flu, a lot of ink has been spilled on the inevitability of another flu pandemic. One aspect that gets little attention, yet holds vital lessons, is that mortality in 1918 was massively skewed by social and economic inequality. In poorer parts of Asia, you were 30 times more likely to die than in richer parts of North America or Europe. Even within wealthy cities, telling patterns emerged. In New York, death rates were highest among immigrants. In Paris, the fact that the flu was most lethal in the wealthiest districts was puzzling, until it became clear who was dying – not property owners, but servants in cramped and draughty quarters. Although inequality wasn’t the only thing shaping death rates, it accounted for a significant part of the variability. The same was true in the 2009 flu pandemic. In England, the mortality rate in the poorest fifth of people was triple that among the most affluent. Pandemic preparedness committees have yet to take such lessons into account. They still define vaccine priority groups using medical criteria such as pregnancy or age, not social ones.

2-28-18 When it comes to baby’s growth, early pregnancy weight may matter more than later gains
Prepregnancy weight and weight gained in the first half of pregnancy had bigger effects on baby’s size than later weight gains, studies have found. When you’re pregnant, you spend a lot of time on scales. Every doctor appointment begins with hopping (or waddling) up for a weigh-in. Health care workers then plot those numbers into a (usually) ascending curve as the weeks go by. A morbid curiosity about exactly how enormous you’re getting isn’t what’s behind the scrutiny. Rather, the pounds put on during pregnancy can give clues about how the pregnancy is progressing. Weight gain during pregnancy is tied to the birth weight of the new baby: On average, the more weight that mothers gain, the bigger the babes. If a mother gains a very small amount of weight, her baby is more likely to be born too early and too small. And if a mother gains too much weight, her baby is at risk of being born large, which can cause trouble during delivery and future health problems for babies. But staying within the recommended weight range is hard. Very hard. A 2017 review of studies that, all told, looked at over a million pregnancies around the world showed that the vast majority of women fell outside the weight gain sweet spot. Twenty-three percent of those women didn’t gain enough, and 47 percent gained too much, the review, published in JAMA, shows.

2-28-18 How humans echolocate 'like bats'
A study has revealed secrets that help some blind people navigate their world by "seeing with sound". People who use "echolocation" employ it in a very similar way to bats - producing clicks that bounce off objects and "sonify" them into a picture of the surroundings. A study of experts in the technique has revealed how louder clicks allow "echolocators" to see behind them. The insights are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B. The key finding was that - just like bats - expert echolocators instinctively increase the intensity (or loudness) of their clicks, and click more frequently when an object is off to the side or behind them. "Everyone's clicks are different," explained Daniel Kish, a co-author on this study, who is also a blind expert in echolocation and already teaches it to others. "I click using my tongue against the roof of my mouth - it's an implosive, sharp sound. It can penetrate the background noise and bring information to you from dozens or hundreds of metres away." Recent research has shown that echolocation can provide detail about objects in the environment, including shape, size, distance, and even the material they are made from. Dr Lore Thaler, the neuroscientist from Durham University, who led the study, said that revealing how experts fine-tune their technique could help develop methods of teaching it to others.

2-27-18 A rare rainstorm wakes undead microbes in Chile’s Atacama Desert
Superbloom solves mystery of what can survive in one of the driest places on Earth. Chile’s Atacama Desert is so dry that some spots see rain only once a decade. Salt turns the sandy soil inhospitable, and ultraviolet radiation scorches the surface. So little can survive there that scientists have wondered whether snippets of DNA found in the soil are just part of the desiccated skeletons of long-dead microbes or traces of hunkered-down but still living colonies. A rare deluge has solved that mystery. Storms that dumped a few centimeters of rain on the Atacama in March 2015 — a decade’s worth in one day — sparked a microbial superbloom, researchers report February 26 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That storm initially threw a wrench into plans for scientists to get a snapshot of microbial life under normal, hyperarid conditions in the Atacama. “But in the end, it came back as a lucky stroke,” says study coauthor Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at the Technische Universität Berlin. He and his colleagues drove mining vehicles into the desert to collect soil samples just a few weeks after the storm, and then returned again in 2016 and 2017 to track changes as the moisture dissipated.

2-27-18 Atacama's lessons about life on Mars
Even in the driest places on Earth there is life eking out an existence, it seems. Scientists have examined the soils in those parts of the Atacama desert that may not see any rains for decades. Still, the team led from the Technical University of Berlin, Germany, found evidence of microbes that have adapted to the extreme conditions. These hardy organisms are of interest because they may serve as a template for how life could survive on Mars. "All the stresses you have in the Atacama, you have on Mars, too - just a little tick more," TU Berlin's Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch told BBC News. So, as well as super-aridity that means even higher levels of ultraviolet radiation and soils that are loaded with salts. Dr Schulze-Makuch's team sampled a range of sites in the South American desert - from those places that get a regular wetting from fogs to those where precipitation of any form is extremely rare. As luck would have it, the scientists turned up in 2015 just a month after one of the celebrated freak rain events. Perhaps not surprisingly given the presence of water, the team detected metabolising microbes in the heart of the Atacama. And then, equally unsurprisingly, the researchers saw the level of that activity decline sharply in the following two years as conditions dried out. "Some have argued that what you're seeing is simply organisms that have blown in on the wind - that what you're seeing is just the remnants of cells and DNA of these organisms as they are dying. "But what we found from our genomic analysis is that there are organisms in the ground that have adapted to high UV radiation, to high salt concentrations," Dr Schulze-Makuch explained. In other words, these microbes are indigenous. And when the water comes they become active; and when the water goes, many will obviously die but a good number will go into a dormant state to await the next precipitation event.

2-27-18 Beetles hide by looking like the bite marks they make on leaves
In a particularly impressive trick of camouflage, some leaf beetles have evolved to look like the feeding damage they make on leaves, so they can hide in their own nibbles. Beetle or bite mark? Leaf beetles are disguising themselves as the holes and scrapes they make on leaves while eating. Although many insects trick predators by mimicking objects like twigs and leaves, this is the first instance of feeding damage being used as a decoy. Fredric Vencl from Stony Brook University in New York and his colleagues had trouble picking out skeletonising leaf beetles on heavily-chewed leaves, and decided to investigate. They analysed photographs of 119 species alongside the size, shape and colour of their bite patterns. Most species resembled their own bite marks, even those that were distantly related, suggesting that the behaviour evolved independently. “I was astonished,” says Vencl. He says the beetles’ bodies probably evolved to look like their bite damage, as well as the other way around. One group of these insects, the flea beetles, are agile jumpers that can catapult themselves to safety in an instant. But they are intensely hunted by birds, so may need more than one strategy. Vencl suspects hiding behind their bite marks came first and that jumping evolved later as a back-up. “We want to look at the history of their feeding masquerade,” he says.

2-27-18 These giant viruses have more protein-making gear than any known virus
The newly discovered duo was found in extreme environments in Brazil. Two newly discovered giant viruses have the most comprehensive toolkit for assembling proteins found in any known virus. In a host cell, the viruses have the potential to synthesize all 20 standard amino acids, the building blocks of life. Researchers dubbed the viruses Tupanvirus deep ocean and Tupanvirus soda lake, combining the name of the indigenous South American god of thunder, Tupan, with the extreme environment where each type of virus was found. The giant viruses are among the largest of their kind — up to 2.3 micrometers in length — which is about 23 times as long as a particle of HIV, the scientists report February 27 in Nature Communications. Tupanviruses can infect a wide range of hosts, such as protists and amoebas, but pose no threat to humans, the researchers say.

2-26-18 Some flu strains can make mice forgetful
Memory trouble and brain changes lingered months after infection. With fevers, chills and aches, the flu can pound the body. Some influenza viruses may hammer the brain, too. Months after being infected with influenza, mice had signs of brain damage and memory trouble, researchers report online February 26 in the Journal of Neuroscience. It’s unclear if people’s memories are affected in the same way as those of mice. But the new research adds to evidence suggesting that some body-wracking infections could also harm the human brain, says epidemiologist and neurologist Mitchell Elkind of Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. Obvious to anyone who has been waylaid by the flu, brainpower can suffer at the infection’s peak. But not much is known about any potential lingering effects on thinking or memory. “It hasn’t occurred to people that it might be something to test,” says neurobiologist Martin Korte of Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany.

2-23-18 Eating fish as a child seems to protect you from hay fever
Infants who eat fish are less likely to develop hay fever later on, a finding that suggests changing diets have played a role in rising allergy rates. Toddlers who eat fish at least once a month are less likely to develop hay fever in later childhood. Hay fever – the itchy, sneezy reaction to pollen, dust and fur – is becoming increasingly common in industrialised countries. Some have blamed the fact that children are being exposed to a narrower range of microbes for disrupting our immune systems, but diet may also play a role. To explore this, Emma Goksör at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and her team asked over 4000 parents about their children’s diet and lifestyle at one year of age, and then again when they were nearly teenagers. Consistent with previous studies, they found that those who grew up on farms with animals were half as likely to develop hay fever – perhaps because they encounter a greater range of microorganisms in infancy. But they also found that children who ate fish at least once a month when they were one-year-olds were 30 per cent less likely to develop hay fever by the age of 12. This connection has been hinted at before: for example, a 2003 study found that 4-year-olds were 55 per cent less likely to suffer from hay fever if they had eaten fish in their first year of life. Other studies have found links between early fish consumption and lower rates of similar allergic diseases like asthma and eczema. “Communities that eat lots of fish generally have lower rates of allergic disease and other inflammatory conditions,” says Mimi Tang at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Studies have also found that children whose mothers took fish oil during pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma, eczema and food sensitivities.

2-23-18 Neanderthals were capable of making art
Contrary to the traditional view of them as brutes, it turns out that Neanderthals were artists. A study in Science journal suggests they made cave drawings in Spain that pre-date the arrival of modern humans in Europe by 20,000 years. They also appear to have used painted sea shells as jewellery. Art was previously thought to be a behaviour unique to our species (Homo sapiens) and far beyond our evolutionary cousins. The cave paintings include stencilled impressions of Neanderthal hands, geometric patterns and red circles. They occupy three sites at La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales - situated up to 700km apart in different parts of Spain. It relies on measuring the radioactive decay of uranium that gets incorporated into mineral crusts forming over the paintings. The results gave a minimum age of 65,000 years ago for the cave art. Modern humans only arrived in Europe roughly 45,000 years ago. This suggests that the Palaeolithic artwork must have been made by Neanderthals, a "sister" species to Homo sapiens, and Europe's sole human inhabitants at the time. But, so far, the researchers have found only abstract expressions of art by Neanderthals.

2-22-18 Neanderthals made the oldest cave art in the world
We weren’t the only ancient artists – the discovery of 66,700-year-old cave art show our Neanderthal cousins also liked to draw. We now know for sure that our extinct Neanderthal cousins were artists who regularly drew on cave walls. The finding implies the capacity to make art may have been inherited from the common ancestor we share with Neanderthals, which lived 500,000 years ago. Many European caves contain prehistoric art, all of which has been attributed to modern humans, though there have been past claims of Neanderthal paintings with weak evidence. Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton, UK and his colleagues have been studying prehistoric art in the Monte Castillo caves in northern Spain for a decade. In 2012, they reported that a red dot on the wall of El Castillo cave was at least 40,800 years old. That was just when Neanderthals were disappearing from Europe and modern humans arrived. “We couldn’t work out whether it was modern humans or Neanderthals that did that painting,” says Pike. Now his team has studied art in three more caves, and found older paintings that must have been made by Neanderthals, since modern humans weren’t around. The first, La Pasiega, is also part of Monte Castillo. It is a long tube, sculpted by water, with arches that have been painted. One painting is a symbol made up of red lines. It is covered with a mineral called calcite, formed when water flowed over the painting and left behind dissolved chemicals. The calcite contains radioactive uranium, which decays into thorium at a known rate. By comparing the amount of uranium and thorium, the researchers determined the calcite was 64,800 years old, so the painting must be at least that old.

2-22-18 Cave art suggests Neandertals were ancient humans’ mental equals
Newly dated rock drawings and shell ornaments predate Homo sapiens in Europe by at least 20,000 years. Neandertals drew on cave walls and made personal ornaments long before encountering Homo sapiens, two new studies find. These discoveries paint bulky, jut-jawed Neandertals as the mental equals of ancient humans, scientists say. Rock art depicting abstract shapes and hand stencils in three Spanish caves dates back to at least 64,800 years ago, researchers report in the Feb. 23 Science. If these new estimates hold up, the Spanish finds become the world’s oldest known examples of cave art, preceding evidence of humans’ arrival in Europe by at least 20,000 years (SN Online: 11/2/11). The finds raise the possibility that “Neandertals took modern humans into caves and showed them how to paint,” says archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France. Personal ornaments previously found at a coastal cave in southeastern Spain are older than the cave art, dating to around 120,000 to 115,000 years ago, scientists report February 22 in Science Advances. Only Neandertals inhabited Europe at that time. Those artifacts consist of pigment-stained seashells with artificial holes, presumably for use as necklaces, and seashells containing remnants of pigment mixtures, say geochronologist Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues. Hoffmann is also an author of the cave art study. The new findings join previous reports of potentially symbolic Neandertal artifacts, such as a possible necklace made from eagle claws (SN: 4/18/15, p. 7) and bird-feather decorations.

2-22-18 A powerful new flu drug
As Americans cope with the worst flu season in a decade, the Japanese drug maker Shionogi says it has developed a new drug that can kill the flu virus within one day. In a human trial, just one dose of the experimental drug, known as baloxavir marboxil, cleared the virus three times faster than Tamiflu, which must be taken twice daily for five days. “The data that we’ve seen looks very promising,” the World Health Organization’s Martin Howell Friede tells The Wall Street Journal. “This could be a breakthrough in the way that we treat influenza.” When the flu virus enters our bodies, it hijacks cells and forces them to replicate the virus, making us very sick. Antivirals, including Tamiflu, help by preventing these flu “copies” from escaping the cells where they were manufactured. Shionogi’s drug takes a more direct approach, preventing the virus from taking control of cells in the first place. The fast-acting drug could make the virus less contagious and provide patients with more immediate symptom relief. The drug is fast-tracked for approval in Japan. Shionogi plans to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this summer.

2-22-18 Measles cases soar
More than 21,000 people got measles in Europe last year, more than quadruple the number in 2016, and at least 35 of them died. World Health Organization officials blame the spike on parents rejecting or delaying jabs for their children because of the discredited but widespread belief that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The most affected countries were Italy, Romania, and Ukraine, with about 5,000 cases each. The vaccination rate for young children in Italy is 85 percent; WHO says 95 percent should be immunized to prevent outbreaks. Measles is highly contagious and can cause blindness, encephalitis, and death. Such deaths are “a tragedy we cannot accept,” said WHO official Zsuzsanna Jakab.

2-22-18 Vaccines Work!
Progress, after the World Health Organization predicted that polio will finally be eradicated “once and for all” in 2018. Last year, there were only 22 reported new cases of the disease, which paralyzed or killed millions of children in the 20th century.

2-22-18 Global Virome Project is hunting for more than 1 million unknown viruses
The search for microbes lurking in animal hosts aims to prevent the next human pandemic. To play good defense against the next viral pandemic, it helps to know the other team’s offense. But the 263 known viruses that circulate in humans represent less than 0.1 percent of the viruses suspected to be lurking out there that could infect people, researchers report in the Feb. 23 Science. The Global Virome Project, to be launched in 2018, aims to close that gap. The international collaboration will survey viruses harbored by birds and mammals to identify candidates that might be zoonotic, or able to jump to humans. Based on the viral diversity in two species known to host emerging human diseases — Indian flying foxes and rhesus macaques — the team estimates there are about 1.67 million unknown viruses still to be discovered in the 25 virus families surveyed. Of those, between 631,000 and 827,000 might be able to infect humans. The $1.2 billion project aims to identify roughly 70 percent of these potential threats within the next 10 years, focusing on animals in places known to be hot spots for the emergence of human-infecting viruses. That data will be made publicly available to help scientists prepare for future virus outbreaks — or, ideally, to quash threats as they emerge.

2-22-18 Fighting bacteria with dirt
Scientists have discovered a new antibiotic capable of wiping out several strains of “superbugs,” including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The new class of microbe-destroying molecules, known as malacidins, was extracted from microorganisms living in dirt, suggesting new weapons against drug-resistant bacteria could be lurking right under our feet, The Washington Post reports. “Every place you step, there’s 10,000 bacteria, most of which we’ve never seen,” says lead researcher Sean Brady. “There’s this reservoir of antibiotics out in the environment we haven’t accessed yet.” The vast majority of antibiotics are produced by fungi and by bacteria themselves in their ongoing competition against one another, but only about 1 percent of these microbes can be grown in petri dishes. The researchers bypassed this problem by removing DNA from 2,000 soil samples teeming with bacteria, cloning it, and injecting it into microbes that can be cultured in a lab. These microbes produced malacidin, which destroys the cell walls of bacteria. The molecule efficiently cleared MRSA infections in rats without inducing resistance. The development of a new drug will take years, but these findings point to a new strategy for combating antibiotic--resistant infections, which kill at least 23,000 Americans a year.

2-22-18 Miniature personalised tumours could help you get the best chemo
Growing mini tumours in the lab from a patient’s own cells could help doctors discover the best way to treat each person, homing in on the right drugs to use. Growing miniature tumours in the lab could help doctors discover the best way to treat each patient, homing in on the right drugs to use. Nicola Valeri, of the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, and her team have shown this by taking 110 biopsies from tumours. These were all secondary tumours from 71 people with cancers that had spread from the bowel, oesophagus or bile duct. In the lab, the team grew up the cells from these biopsies into miniature tumours, and tested 55 standard chemotherapeutic drugs on each kind, to see which were the best at killing them. These tests showed with 100 per cent accuracy which drugs hadn’t worked out when tried in the patient who’d donated the cells. The tests were 88 per cent accurate at predicting drugs that had successfully shrunk tumours in these patients. Cancer treatment is often guided by genetic sequences taken from a primary tumour, but the team think their method is a better way of deciding how to fight cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body. “We know that cancers evolve over treatment and change between the primary and the secondaries,” says Valeri. The team is planning to test their approach in a clinical trial in which chemotherapy drug selection for each person will be guided by testing balls of their cells in the lab. As well as tumour cells, they’re also looking at how immune and inflammatory cells from a person might help guide their treatment.

2-22-18 Having children may add 11 years to a woman’s biological age
Having a baby seems to be linked to shorter caps on the ends of a woman’s chromosomes – a sign of ageing that has been linked to disease and a shorter lifespan. Women who have given birth seem to have hallmarks of faster biological ageing than those that don’t – and the difference is equivalent to around 11 years. That’s what Anna Pollack and her colleagues at George Mason University, Virginia, found when they looked at one measure of biological ageing. The team looked at the length of telomeres – chunks of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes. These shorten with each cell division, and shrunken telomeres have been associated with a shorter lifespan, as well as a host of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Pollack and her colleagues looked at telomere lengths in blood samples taken between 1999 and 2000 from 1,954 women from across the US. They were all aged between 20 and 44 at the time. They found that women who had given birth had telomeres that were on average 4.2 per cent shorter than those who had not had children, even after accounting for factors like age, socioeconomic status and body mass index. “It is equivalent to around 11 years of accelerated cellular ageing,” says Pollack. The size of the telomere shortening is bigger than that seen in studies of smoking or obesity, says Pollack. “We were surprised to find such a striking result.” It’s unclear whether this is caused by pregnancy, childbirth, or the experience of raising children. Women who have been pregnant seem to have a degree of protection from some cancers, including breast and uterine cancer, but are more at risk of heart disease and diabetes, thanks to hormonal changes.

2-22-18 Chemicals undo weight loss
A class of widely used chemicals lurking in nonstick pans, pizza boxes, food wrappers, and other consumer products are accumulating in people’s bodies and can cause weight gain. For 60 years, chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, have been used to make a wide range of stain-resistant, waterproof, and nonstick products, including cookware, carpets, and food wrappers. These chemicals have already been linked to cancer, immune system dysfunction, and hormone disruption. Now Harvard researchers have found exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals could also slow metabolism. The team analyzed blood samples collected from 621 overweight or obese people. They found those with the greatest levels of these chemicals burned fewer calories and regained more weight after dieting than those with minimal exposure. This link was particularly strong among women, who gained back up to five more pounds than those with the lowest PFAS levels. “It is very hard to avoid exposure to PFASs, but we should try to,” study author Qi Sun tells TheGuardian.com. “It’s an increasing public health issue.”

2-22-18 Standing sheds pounds
The harmful effects of prolonged sitting are well established. New research suggests that spending more time on your feet, perhaps at a standing desk, is not only healthier—it can also help people lose weight. After analyzing 46 studies involving more than 1,000 people, scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that standing burns 0.15 calories more per minute than sitting. This seemingly insignificant difference can have notable effects over time. Six hours of standing would burn an extra 54 calories per day. After one year, this could amount to a loss of 5.5 pounds. Those who keep it up for an additional three years could shed up to 22 pounds, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Standing for long periods of time for many adults may seem unmanageable, especially those who have desk jobs,” says study author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez. “But for the person who sits for 12 hours a day, cutting sitting time to half would give great benefits.”

2-23-18 Eating fish as a child seems to protect you from hay fever
Infants who eat fish are less likely to develop hay fever later on, a finding that suggests changing diets have played a role in rising allergy rates. Toddlers who eat fish at least once a month are less likely to develop hay fever in later childhood. Hay fever – the itchy, sneezy reaction to pollen, dust and fur – is becoming increasingly common in industrialised countries. Some have blamed the fact that children are being exposed to a narrower range of microbes for disrupting our immune systems, but diet may also play a role. To explore this, Emma Goksör at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and her team asked over 4000 parents about their children’s diet and lifestyle at one year of age, and then again when they were nearly teenagers. Consistent with previous studies, they found that those who grew up on farms with animals were half as likely to develop hay fever – perhaps because they encounter a greater range of microorganisms in infancy. But they also found that children who ate fish at least once a month when they were one-year-olds were 30 per cent less likely to develop hay fever by the age of 12. This connection has been hinted at before: for example, a 2003 study found that 4-year-olds were 55 per cent less likely to suffer from hay fever if they had eaten fish in their first year of life. Other studies have found links between early fish consumption and lower rates of similar allergic diseases like asthma and eczema. “Communities that eat lots of fish generally have lower rates of allergic disease and other inflammatory conditions,” says Mimi Tang at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Studies have also found that children whose mothers took fish oil during pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma, eczema and food sensitivities.

2-23-18 Neanderthals were capable of making art
Contrary to the traditional view of them as brutes, it turns out that Neanderthals were artists. A study in Science journal suggests they made cave drawings in Spain that pre-date the arrival of modern humans in Europe by 20,000 years. They also appear to have used painted sea shells as jewellery. Art was previously thought to be a behaviour unique to our species (Homo sapiens) and far beyond our evolutionary cousins. The cave paintings include stencilled impressions of Neanderthal hands, geometric patterns and red circles. They occupy three sites at La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales - situated up to 700km apart in different parts of Spain. It relies on measuring the radioactive decay of uranium that gets incorporated into mineral crusts forming over the paintings. The results gave a minimum age of 65,000 years ago for the cave art. Modern humans only arrived in Europe roughly 45,000 years ago. This suggests that the Palaeolithic artwork must have been made by Neanderthals, a "sister" species to Homo sapiens, and Europe's sole human inhabitants at the time. But, so far, the researchers have found only abstract expressions of art by Neanderthals.

2-22-18 Neanderthals made the oldest cave art in the world
We weren’t the only ancient artists – the discovery of 66,700-year-old cave art show our Neanderthal cousins also liked to draw. We now know for sure that our extinct Neanderthal cousins were artists who regularly drew on cave walls. The finding implies the capacity to make art may have been inherited from the common ancestor we share with Neanderthals, which lived 500,000 years ago. Many European caves contain prehistoric art, all of which has been attributed to modern humans, though there have been past claims of Neanderthal paintings with weak evidence. Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton, UK and his colleagues have been studying prehistoric art in the Monte Castillo caves in northern Spain for a decade. In 2012, they reported that a red dot on the wall of El Castillo cave was at least 40,800 years old. That was just when Neanderthals were disappearing from Europe and modern humans arrived. “We couldn’t work out whether it was modern humans or Neanderthals that did that painting,” says Pike. Now his team has studied art in three more caves, and found older paintings that must have been made by Neanderthals, since modern humans weren’t around. The first, La Pasiega, is also part of Monte Castillo. It is a long tube, sculpted by water, with arches that have been painted. One painting is a symbol made up of red lines. It is covered with a mineral called calcite, formed when water flowed over the painting and left behind dissolved chemicals. The calcite contains radioactive uranium, which decays into thorium at a known rate. By comparing the amount of uranium and thorium, the researchers determined the calcite was 64,800 years old, so the painting must be at least that old.

2-22-18 Cave art suggests Neandertals were ancient humans’ mental equals
Newly dated rock drawings and shell ornaments predate Homo sapiens in Europe by at least 20,000 years. Neandertals drew on cave walls and made personal ornaments long before encountering Homo sapiens, two new studies find. These discoveries paint bulky, jut-jawed Neandertals as the mental equals of ancient humans, scientists say. Rock art depicting abstract shapes and hand stencils in three Spanish caves dates back to at least 64,800 years ago, researchers report in the Feb. 23 Science. If these new estimates hold up, the Spanish finds become the world’s oldest known examples of cave art, preceding evidence of humans’ arrival in Europe by at least 20,000 years (SN Online: 11/2/11). The finds raise the possibility that “Neandertals took modern humans into caves and showed them how to paint,” says archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France. Personal ornaments previously found at a coastal cave in southeastern Spain are older than the cave art, dating to around 120,000 to 115,000 years ago, scientists report February 22 in Science Advances. Only Neandertals inhabited Europe at that time. Those artifacts consist of pigment-stained seashells with artificial holes, presumably for use as necklaces, and seashells containing remnants of pigment mixtures, say geochronologist Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues. Hoffmann is also an author of the cave art study. The new findings join previous reports of potentially symbolic Neandertal artifacts, such as a possible necklace made from eagle claws (SN: 4/18/15, p. 7) and bird-feather decorations.

2-22-18 A powerful new flu drug
As Americans cope with the worst flu season in a decade, the Japanese drug maker Shionogi says it has developed a new drug that can kill the flu virus within one day. In a human trial, just one dose of the experimental drug, known as baloxavir marboxil, cleared the virus three times faster than Tamiflu, which must be taken twice daily for five days. “The data that we’ve seen looks very promising,” the World Health Organization’s Martin Howell Friede tells The Wall Street Journal. “This could be a breakthrough in the way that we treat influenza.” When the flu virus enters our bodies, it hijacks cells and forces them to replicate the virus, making us very sick. Antivirals, including Tamiflu, help by preventing these flu “copies” from escaping the cells where they were manufactured. Shionogi’s drug takes a more direct approach, preventing the virus from taking control of cells in the first place. The fast-acting drug could make the virus less contagious and provide patients with more immediate symptom relief. The drug is fast-tracked for approval in Japan. Shionogi plans to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this summer.

2-22-18 Measles cases soar
More than 21,000 people got measles in Europe last year, more than quadruple the number in 2016, and at least 35 of them died. World Health Organization officials blame the spike on parents rejecting or delaying jabs for their children because of the discredited but widespread belief that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The most affected countries were Italy, Romania, and Ukraine, with about 5,000 cases each. The vaccination rate for young children in Italy is 85 percent; WHO says 95 percent should be immunized to prevent outbreaks. Measles is highly contagious and can cause blindness, encephalitis, and death. Such deaths are “a tragedy we cannot accept,” said WHO official Zsuzsanna Jakab.

2-22-18 Vaccines Work!
Progress, after the World Health Organization predicted that polio will finally be eradicated “once and for all” in 2018. Last year, there were only 22 reported new cases of the disease, which paralyzed or killed millions of children in the 20th century.

2-22-18 Global Virome Project is hunting for more than 1 million unknown viruses
The search for microbes lurking in animal hosts aims to prevent the next human pandemic. To play good defense against the next viral pandemic, it helps to know the other team’s offense. But the 263 known viruses that circulate in humans represent less than 0.1 percent of the viruses suspected to be lurking out there that could infect people, researchers report in the Feb. 23 Science. The Global Virome Project, to be launched in 2018, aims to close that gap. The international collaboration will survey viruses harbored by birds and mammals to identify candidates that might be zoonotic, or able to jump to humans. Based on the viral diversity in two species known to host emerging human diseases — Indian flying foxes and rhesus macaques — the team estimates there are about 1.67 million unknown viruses still to be discovered in the 25 virus families surveyed. Of those, between 631,000 and 827,000 might be able to infect humans. The $1.2 billion project aims to identify roughly 70 percent of these potential threats within the next 10 years, focusing on animals in places known to be hot spots for the emergence of human-infecting viruses. That data will be made publicly available to help scientists prepare for future virus outbreaks — or, ideally, to quash threats as they emerge.

2-22-18 Fighting bacteria with dirt
Scientists have discovered a new antibiotic capable of wiping out several strains of “superbugs,” including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The new class of microbe-destroying molecules, known as malacidins, was extracted from microorganisms living in dirt, suggesting new weapons against drug-resistant bacteria could be lurking right under our feet, The Washington Post reports. “Every place you step, there’s 10,000 bacteria, most of which we’ve never seen,” says lead researcher Sean Brady. “There’s this reservoir of antibiotics out in the environment we haven’t accessed yet.” The vast majority of antibiotics are produced by fungi and by bacteria themselves in their ongoing competition against one another, but only about 1 percent of these microbes can be grown in petri dishes. The researchers bypassed this problem by removing DNA from 2,000 soil samples teeming with bacteria, cloning it, and injecting it into microbes that can be cultured in a lab. These microbes produced malacidin, which destroys the cell walls of bacteria. The molecule efficiently cleared MRSA infections in rats without inducing resistance. The development of a new drug will take years, but these findings point to a new strategy for combating antibiotic--resistant infections, which kill at least 23,000 Americans a year.

2-22-18 Miniature personalised tumours could help you get the best chemo
Growing mini tumours in the lab from a patient’s own cells could help doctors discover the best way to treat each person, homing in on the right drugs to use. Growing miniature tumours in the lab could help doctors discover the best way to treat each patient, homing in on the right drugs to use. Nicola Valeri, of the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, and her team have shown this by taking 110 biopsies from tumours. These were all secondary tumours from 71 people with cancers that had spread from the bowel, oesophagus or bile duct. In the lab, the team grew up the cells from these biopsies into miniature tumours, and tested 55 standard chemotherapeutic drugs on each kind, to see which were the best at killing them. These tests showed with 100 per cent accuracy which drugs hadn’t worked out when tried in the patient who’d donated the cells. The tests were 88 per cent accurate at predicting drugs that had successfully shrunk tumours in these patients. Cancer treatment is often guided by genetic sequences taken from a primary tumour, but the team think their method is a better way of deciding how to fight cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body. “We know that cancers evolve over treatment and change between the primary and the secondaries,” says Valeri. The team is planning to test their approach in a clinical trial in which chemotherapy drug selection for each person will be guided by testing balls of their cells in the lab. As well as tumour cells, they’re also looking at how immune and inflammatory cells from a person might help guide their treatment.

2-22-18 Having children may add 11 years to a woman’s biological age
Having a baby seems to be linked to shorter caps on the ends of a woman’s chromosomes – a sign of ageing that has been linked to disease and a shorter lifespan. Women who have given birth seem to have hallmarks of faster biological ageing than those that don’t – and the difference is equivalent to around 11 years. That’s what Anna Pollack and her colleagues at George Mason University, Virginia, found when they looked at one measure of biological ageing. The team looked at the length of telomeres – chunks of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes. These shorten with each cell division, and shrunken telomeres have been associated with a shorter lifespan, as well as a host of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Pollack and her colleagues looked at telomere lengths in blood samples taken between 1999 and 2000 from 1,954 women from across the US. They were all aged between 20 and 44 at the time. They found that women who had given birth had telomeres that were on average 4.2 per cent shorter than those who had not had children, even after accounting for factors like age, socioeconomic status and body mass index. “It is equivalent to around 11 years of accelerated cellular ageing,” says Pollack. The size of the telomere shortening is bigger than that seen in studies of smoking or obesity, says Pollack. “We were surprised to find such a striking result.” It’s unclear whether this is caused by pregnancy, childbirth, or the experience of raising children. Women who have been pregnant seem to have a degree of protection from some cancers, including breast and uterine cancer, but are more at risk of heart disease and diabetes, thanks to hormonal changes.

2-22-18 Chemicals undo weight loss
A class of widely used chemicals lurking in nonstick pans, pizza boxes, food wrappers, and other consumer products are accumulating in people’s bodies and can cause weight gain. For 60 years, chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, have been used to make a wide range of stain-resistant, waterproof, and nonstick products, including cookware, carpets, and food wrappers. These chemicals have already been linked to cancer, immune system dysfunction, and hormone disruption. Now Harvard researchers have found exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals could also slow metabolism. The team analyzed blood samples collected from 621 overweight or obese people. They found those with the greatest levels of these chemicals burned fewer calories and regained more weight after dieting than those with minimal exposure. This link was particularly strong among women, who gained back up to five more pounds than those with the lowest PFAS levels. “It is very hard to avoid exposure to PFASs, but we should try to,” study author Qi Sun tells TheGuardian.com. “It’s an increasing public health issue.”

2-22-18 Standing sheds pounds
The harmful effects of prolonged sitting are well established. New research suggests that spending more time on your feet, perhaps at a standing desk, is not only healthier—it can also help people lose weight. After analyzing 46 studies involving more than 1,000 people, scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that standing burns 0.15 calories more per minute than sitting. This seemingly insignificant difference can have notable effects over time. Six hours of standing would burn an extra 54 calories per day. After one year, this could amount to a loss of 5.5 pounds. Those who keep it up for an additional three years could shed up to 22 pounds, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Standing for long periods of time for many adults may seem unmanageable, especially those who have desk jobs,” says study author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez. “But for the person who sits for 12 hours a day, cutting sitting time to half would give great benefits.”

2-22-18 Cycling in later life makes you less likely to have a bad fall
Riding a bike into your older years means stronger legs, better balance and a lower risk of falls that injure and kill millions of elderly people. Middle-aged men in Lycra – or “MAMILs” – may be onto something. People who keep cycling into their later years are surer on their feet, lowering the risk of falls that plague older folk. One-third of over 65s take a tumble each year. Apart from the physical injuries, the fear of a repeat can limit mobility and independence and lead to further health issues like arthritis and depression. About one-quarter of older people who fracture their hip during a fall die within a year. Chris Rissel at the University of Sydney and his colleagues wondered whether bike-riding could prevent falls by improving balance and leg strength. They compared 79 people aged 65 or older who still regularly rode with 28 others who stopped when they were younger. The participants were a mix of men and women living in the Netherlands. Those who still cycled performed better in all tests of strength and balance. For example, they were able to stand on one leg for more than twice as long, could jump twice as high, and were faster at going from sitting to standing. “We would expect this to translate to fewer falls because there’s good evidence that strength and balance are the core preventative factors,” says Rissel. A questionnaire found that the participants who still cycled also reported being 25 per cent more confident on average in their ability to stay on their feet during everyday activities like walking around the house, going up and down stairs, and navigating busy shopping centres.

2-22-18 Almost every antidepressant headline you’ll read today is wrong
A review of the evidence on antidepressants has been hailed as the final word on these drugs, but questions remain for people with less severe depression. Antidepressants really do work, and should be prescribed to millions more people, if you believe today’s newspaper headlines. The reality is more nuanced, as we still don’t know that these drugs will help most people with less severe depression. The positive press has been triggered by a study out this week that found these medicines do relieve depression, contradicting previous claims they are little better than a placebo. The latest investigation was a mammoth undertaking by a respected group of researchers. It reviewed over 500 trials of 21 different drugs, containing more than 100,000 people with depression. Most media reports say the new findings should put the controversy to bed. Let’s not be too hasty. The previous negative studies found that antidepressants don’t work in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Most of the people in the latest review had more severe depression. So it is good news for that severe group, but it doesn’t resolve whether this is true for all forms of depression. Mild depression is more common than the severe form, so we are still in the dark about how much antidepressants help most people – and the main complaint is that doctors prescribe these pills too easily for those at the milder end of the spectrum. Nor does the new study reveal how well they work for the other conditions they are often recommended for, such as anxiety and phobias.

2-22-18 Ancient Britons 'replaced' by newcomers
The ancient population of Britain was almost completely replaced by newcomers about 4,500 years ago, a study shows. The findings mean modern Britons trace just a small fraction of their ancestry to the people who built Stonehenge. The astonishing result comes from analysis of DNA extracted from 400 ancient remains across Europe. The mammoth study, published in Nature, suggests the newcomers, known as Beaker people, replaced 90% of the British gene pool in a few hundred years. Lead author Prof David Reich, from Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, US, said: "The magnitude and suddenness of the population replacement is highly unexpected." The reasons remain unclear, but climate change, disease and ecological disaster could all have played a role. People in Britain lived by hunting and gathering until agriculture was introduced from continental Europe about 6,000 years ago. These Neolithic farmers, who traced their origins to Anatolia (modern Turkey) built giant stone (or "megalithic") structures such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, huge Earth mounds and sophisticated settlements such as Skara Brae in the Orkneys. But towards the end of the Neolithic, about 4,450 years ago, a new way of life spread to Britain from Europe. People began burying their dead with stylised bell-shaped pots, copper daggers, arrowheads, stone wrist guards and distinctive perforated buttons. Co-author Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) in Barcelona, Spain, said the Beaker traditions probably started "as a kind of fashion" in Iberia after 5,000 years ago. From here, the culture spread very fast by word of mouth to Central Europe. After it was adopted by people in Central Europe, it exploded in every direction - but through the movement of people.

2-21-18 Ancient ‘dark-skinned’ Briton Cheddar Man find may not be true
The headline was that an ancient Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark skin, but the genetics of skin colour are so complex that we can’t be sure. A Briton who lived 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes. At least, that’s what dozens of news stories published this month – including our own – stated as fact. But one of the geneticists who performed the research says the conclusion is less certain, and according to others we are not even close to knowing the skin colour of any ancient human. The skeleton of Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903 in a cave in south-east England where it had lain for 10,000 years. Until a few weeks ago, he had always been depicted with pale skin. This makes some sense, given that people living at northern latitudes often have paler skins. The explanation may be that it allows more of the weak northerly sunlight into their skin, so they can make enough vitamin D. And it seems our species reached Europe 30,000 years before Cheddar Man lived, so his ancestors would have had plenty of time to evolve paler skins. But the new DNA analysis suggests that Cheddar Man may have had dark skin. Most news stories said his skin was “dark to black”. To show this, researchers including Susan Walsh at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis read Cheddar Man’s DNA. Walsh had helped develop a model that attempts to predict someone’s eye, hair and skin pigmentation solely from their DNA, and the team applied this model to Cheddar Man.

2-21-18 The tamed ape: Were humans the first animal to be domesticated?
Deep inside our genome are bits of DNA we share only with animals such as dogs and cattle. Our self-domestication may have been a pivotal moment in making us human. FIRST came the dog, followed by sheep and goats. Then the floodgates opened: pigs, cows, cats, horses and a menagerie of birds and other beasts made the leap. Over the past 30,000 years or so, humans have domesticated all manner of species for food, hunting, transport, materials, to control pests and to keep as pets. But some say that before we domesticated any of them, we first had to domesticate ourselves. Mooted by Darwin and even Aristotle, the idea of human domestication has since been just that: an idea. Now, for the first time, genetic comparisons between us and Neanderthals suggest that we really may be the puppy dogs to their feral wolves. Not only could this explain some long-standing mysteries – including why our brains are weirdly smaller than those of our Stone Age ancestors – some say it is the only way to make sense of certain quirks of human evolution. One major insight into what happens when wild beasts are domesticated comes from a remarkable experiment that began in 1959, in Soviet Siberia. There, Dmitry Belyaev took relatively wild foxes from an Estonian fur farm and bred them. In each new litter, he chose the most cooperative animals and encouraged them to mate. Gradually, the foxes began to behave more and more like pets. But it wasn’t just their behaviour that changed. The tamer foxes also looked different. Within 10 generations, white patches started to appear on their fur. A few generations later, their ears became floppier. Eventually the males’ skulls shrank and began to look more like those of the females.

2-21-18 New fossils are redefining what makes a dinosaur
Defining what’s unique about these ‘fearfully great lizards’ gets harder with new finds. “There’s a very faint dimple here,” Sterling Nesbitt says, holding up a palm-sized fossil to the light. The fossil, a pelvic bone, belonged to a creature called Teleocrater rhadinus. The slender, 2-meter-long reptile ran on all fours and lived 245 million years ago, about 10 million to 15 million years before scientists think dinosaurs first appeared. Nesbitt, a paleontologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, tilts the bone toward the overhead light, illuminating a small depression in the fossil. The dent, about the size of a thumbprint, marks the place where the leg bone fit into the pelvis. In a true dinosaur, there would be a complete hole there in the hip socket, not just a depression. The dimple is like a waving red flag: Nope, not a dinosaur. The hole in the hip socket probably helped dinosaurs position their legs underneath their bodies, rather than splayed to the sides like a crocodile’s legs. Until recently, that hole was among a handful of telltale features paleontologists used to identify whether they had their hands on an actual dinosaur specimen. Another no-fail sign was a particular depression at the top of the skull. Until Teleocrater mucked things up. The creature predated the dinosaurs, yet it had the dinosaur skull depression.

2-21-18 We can now squeeze a molecule and turn it into one that we want
We can now precisely tweak molecular structures just by squeezing them - a technique that could let us efficiently build custom drug compounds on the cheap. It’s a tight squeeze. Researchers have controlled a chemical reaction by squeezing specially designed molecules between a pair of diamonds. This could be a more precise way to make custom molecules on demand for use in pharmaceuticals. There are several ways to initiate a chemical reaction that breaks molecular bonds or moves electrons around. You can add heat, electricity or light, or simply pull the molecule apart. Now, Nicholas Melosh at Stanford University and his colleagues have initiated these sorts of reactions by simply squeezing the whole molecule. This is the first time anyone has started an asymmetrical chemical reaction by just squeezing. High pressure is a simple way to create some types of molecular changes, like turning graphite into diamonds. But most reactions are symmetrical across an entire molecule – because the pressure is coming from all sides, every part of the graphite’s structure shifts in the same way to become diamond. For more sophisticated, asymmetrical reactions, the molecule needs some sort of internal structure that put pressure on a particular location. Melosh and his colleagues accomplished this by placing the part of the molecule in which they wanted the reaction to take place between two rigid molecules called carboranes.

2-21-18 A new study eases fears of a link between autism and prenatal ultrasounds
On almost every measure, prenatal ultrasounds didn’t seem related to a risk of developing autism, a recent study finds. Ultrasounds during pregnancy can be lots of fun, offering peeks at the baby-to-be. But ultrasounds aren’t just a way to get Facebook fodder. They are medical procedures that involve sound waves, technology that could, in theory, affect a growing fetus. With that concern in mind, some researchers have wondered if the rising rates of autism diagnoses could have anything to do with the increasing number of ultrasound scans that women receive during pregnancy. The answer is no, suggests a study published online February 12 in JAMA Pediatrics. On average, children with autism were exposed to fewer ultrasounds during pregnancy, scientists found. The results should be “very reassuring” to parents, says study coauthor Jodi Abbott, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine. To back up: Autism rates have risen sharply over the last several decades (though are possibly plateauing). Against this backdrop, researchers are searching for the causes of autism — and there are probably many. Autism is known to run in families, and scientists have found some of the particular genetic hot spots that may contribute. Other factors, such as older parents and maternal obesity, can also increase the risk of autism.

2-20-18 How you speak predicts if psychedelic therapy will help you
Psilocybin, a compound in magic mushrooms, may help treat depression in some people. Now speech analysis can indicate who would benefit the most. The way you speak may reveal whether a psychedelic drug could help treat depression or anxiety. Robin Carhart-Harris and his team at Imperial College London have been testing psilocybin – a hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms – in people with treatment-resistant depression. Their pilot study found that when it was given to 12 volunteers alongside psychological support, five of them no longer met the clinical criteria for a depression diagnosis three months later. But how can you tell if psilocybin might help someone? Working with the Imperial team, Facundo Carrillo at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and his colleagues tested the idea that speech patterns give a clue. Speech analysis has already been used to identify people with a range of mental health disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. “Language is a window to the mind,” says Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “It’s a huge part of how people express themselves.” Carrillo’s team developed software to analyse interview responses given by 17 people with treatment-resistant depression before psilocybin treatment, and 18 people without depression. The psilocybin treatment seemed to reduce the symptoms of seven of the people with depression by more than 50 per cent. Using the results to train their software, the researchers say it can predict whether a person with depression will respond to psilocybin with 85 per cent accuracy

2-20-18 A fake organ mimics what happens in the blink of an eye
Faux eyeball surface could be used to test treatments for eye diseases. A new artificial organ gives a new meaning to the phrase “making eyes.” For the first time, researchers used human cells to build a model of the surface of the eye that’s equipped with a fake eyelid that mimics blinking. This synthetic eye could be used to study and test treatments for eye diseases, researchers reported February 16 in a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dan Huh, a bioengineer at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues grew a ring of conjunctival cells — tissue that covers the white part of the eye — around a circle of corneal cells on a contact lens?shaped platform. A faux eyelid made of a thin hydrogel film covers and uncovers the eye to spread tear fluid over the cells. This artificial eye surface could help researchers study dry eye disease, a condition that affects an estimated 16 million adults in the United States. People with dry eye disease don’t produce enough tears or fail to make tears with the proper chemical composition to keep their eyes hydrated. Huh’s team could give the organ the symptoms of dry eye disease by making it blink less frequently, so the device could be used to test the safety and effectiveness of new eye drop medications. This kind of artificial organ may also be used to study other eye injuries, like corneal ulcers, Huh said.

2-20-18 How to build a human brain
Some steps for growing mini versions of human organs are easier than others. In a white lab coat and blue latex gloves, Neda Vishlaghi peers through a light microscope at six milky-white blobs. Each is about the size of a couscous grain, bathed in the pale orange broth of a petri dish. With tweezers in one hand and surgical scissors in the other, she deftly snips one tiny clump in half. When growing human brains, sometimes you need to do some pruning. The blobs are 8-week-old bits of brainlike tissue. While they wouldn’t be mistaken for Lilliputian-sized brains, some of their fine-grained features bear a remarkable resemblance to the human cerebral cortex, home to our memories, decision making and other high-level cognitive powers. Vishlaghi created these “minibrains” at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, where she’s a research assistant. First she immersed batches of human pluripotent stem cells — which can morph into any cell type in the body — in a special mix of chemicals. The free-floating cells multiplied and coalesced into itty-bitty balls of neural tissue. Nurtured with meticulously timed doses of growth-supporting ingredients, the cell clumps were eventually transferred to petri dishes of broth laced with Matrigel, a gelatin-like matrix of proteins.

2-20-18 Are computers better than people at predicting who will commit another crime?
Maybe not. When it comes to predicting whether or not someone will commit another crime — which can affect lockup time — computer programs don’t have an edge over people. In courtrooms around the United States, computer programs give testimony that helps decide who gets locked up and who walks free. These algorithms are criminal recidivism predictors, which use personal information about defendants — like family and employment history — to assess that person’s likelihood of committing future crimes. Judges factor those risk ratings into verdicts on everything from bail to sentencing to parole. Computers get a say in these life-changing decisions because their crime forecasts are supposedly less biased and more accurate than human guesswork. But investigations into algorithms’ treatment of different demographics have revealed how machines perpetuate human prejudices. Now there’s reason to doubt whether crime-prediction algorithms can even boast superhuman accuracy.

2-20-18 Origins of land plants pushed back in time
A seminal event in the Earth's history - when plants appeared on land - may have happened 100 million years earlier than previously thought. Land plants evolved from "pond scum" about 500 million years ago, according to new research. These early moss-like plants greened the continents, creating habitats for land animals. The study, based on analysing the genes of living plants, overturns theories based purely on fossil plant evidence. "Land plants emerged on land half a billion years ago, tens of millions of years older than the fossil record alone suggests," said study author, Dr Philip Donoghue of the department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. "This changes perception of the nature of early terrestrial environments, displacing pond scum in favour of a flora that would have tickled your toes - but not reached much higher." Early plants would have provided a habitat for fully terrestrial animals, which emerged onto land at much the same time, he said. This coincides with the time period when life became more diverse and abundant in the seas - an event known as the Cambrian explosion. "Our results show the ancestor of land plants was alive in the middle Cambrian Period, which was similar to the age for the first known terrestrial animals," said co-researcher Dr Mark Puttick, from the Natural History Museum, London.

2-19-18 We’re evolving a gene that may stop us from drinking alcohol
Humans are still evolving and producing new gene variants, and one of them may give protection against becoming addicted to alcohol - by stopping us drinking altogether. Humans are still evolving, and alcohol may be helping to drive the process in some places. A variant of a gene that protects us against alcohol addiction, possibly by making boozing intolerable, seems to be favoured by evolution. So are several other gene variants. Novel gene variants are known to have arisen and spread among humans in the recent past. One allows some people to tolerate the lactose in cow’s milk, so they can digest dairy produce. Other rapidly changing genes have been linked with education, smoking and Alzheimer’s disease. People have been drinking alcohol for many thousands of years, so it seems reasonable that our taste for booze – and the attendant dangers – could also have affected our genes. Benjamin Voight of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have tried to identify regions of the human genome that have evolved over the last few thousand years. The group trawled through the genomes of about 2500 living people from 26 populations on four continents, obtained by the 1000 Genomes Project. To pick out gene variants that are on their way to becoming established across humankind, the team looked for ones that have emerged relatively recently in seemingly disparate populations – such as in both westernmost Europe and easternmost Asia. The group assumed such variants are helpful, because they must either have spread rapidly across continents, or arisen independently and stuck several times over.

2-19-18 This is what the flu does to your body
And why it feels so awful. Every year, from 5 to 20 percent of the people in the United States will become infected with influenza virus. An average of 200,000 of these people will require hospitalization and up to 50,000 will die. Older folks over the age of 65 are especially susceptible to influenza infection, since the immune system becomes weaker with age. In addition, older folks are also more susceptible to long-term disability following influenza infection, especially if they are hospitalized. We all know the symptoms of influenza infection include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. But just what causes all the havoc? What is going on in your body as you fight the flu? I am a researcher who specializes in immunology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and my laboratory focuses on how influenza infection affects the body and how our bodies combat the virus. It's interesting to note that many of the body's defenses that attack the virus also cause many of the symptoms associated with the flu.

  • How the flu works its way into your body: Influenza virus causes an infection in the respiratory tract, or nose, throat, and lungs. The virus is inhaled or transmitted, usually via your fingers, to the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Why your head hurts so much: While the influenza virus is wholly contained in the lungs under normal circumstances, several symptoms of influenza are systemic, including fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.
  • Why your muscles ache: Our study in an animal model found that influenza infection leads to an increase in the expression of muscle-degrading genes and a decrease in expression of muscle-building genes in skeletal muscles in the legs.

2-19-18 Flu is evolving in new and unpredictable ways in China’s poultry
A woman in China has been infected by a new type of flu. With thousands of people travelling after Chinese new year, the risk of new strains spreading is high. A type of avian flu has infected people for the first time. So far, the virus doesn’t seem to be especially threatening, but its jump from chickens to humans was unexpected: the World Health Organization says no similar strains have ever crossed over to people before. Last week, the Hong Kong government announced that a 68-year-old woman in Jiangsu Province in eastern China was hospitalised in January with severe respiratory symptoms. This turned out to be the first recorded case of an H7N4 flu virus infecting humans. The woman recovered after a month in hospital. But the case still rang alarm bells, highlighting the huge amount of unpredictable viral evolution taking place in livestock farming. A different kind of bird flu – H7N9 – first emerged in China in 2013, and has since infected more than 1,500 people there. More than half of these cases took place last winter and spring alone, and 40 per cent of them died. H7N9 has become ubiquitous in Chinese poultry, but it doesn’t spread easily from person-to-person. The nightmare scenario is that this virus could hybridise with a type of influenza that spreads more readily between people, and cause a severe pandemic. Such hybridisation can occur when one bird carries two or more kinds of flu – and it seems that a quarter of poultry in Chinese markets do.

2-19-18 Autism: Scientists take 'first steps' towards biological test
Scientists have taken the first steps towards what they say could become a new blood and urine test for autism. Their study tested children with and without the condition and found higher levels of protein damage in those with the disorder. The researchers said the tests could lead ultimately to the earlier detection of the condition, which can be difficult to diagnose. But experts expressed caution, saying such a test was still a long way off. Autism affects behaviour and particularly social interaction but it is difficult to spot and is not usually diagnosed before the age of two, and often much later. Currently, there are no biological tests that can spot the condition, which is diagnosed through behavioural assessments by clinicians. For this new study, published in the Molecular Autism journal, researchers looked for chemical differences in the blood and urine of 38 autistic children and 31 children without the condition, all aged between five and 12. In those with autism they found higher levels of protein damage - particularly in the blood plasma - which they said were associated with ill health. Dr Naila Rabbani, from the University of Warwick, who led the study, told the BBC the tests could ultimately be used by doctors to diagnose autism earlier in childhood by detecting these markers.

2-19-18 'Loneliest tree' records human epoch
It’s been dubbed "the loneliest tree on the planet" because of its remote location, but the Sitka spruce might represent something quite profound about the age in which we live. The tree, sited on Campbell Island in the Southern Ocean, records in its wood a clear radioactive trace from the A-bomb tests of the 1950s and 60s. As such, it could be the "golden spike" scientists are seeking to define the start of the Anthropocene Epoch - a new time segment in our geological history of Earth. The suggestion is that whatever is taken as the golden spike, it should reflect the so-called "Great Acceleration" when human impacts on the planet suddenly intensified and became global in extent. This occurs after WWII and is seen for example in the explosion in plastics production. Chris Turney, from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues, say the Sitka spruce captures this change exquisitely in the chemistry of its growth rings. "We're putting this forward as a serious contender to mark the start of the Anthropocene. It's got to be something that reflects a global signal," Prof Turney told BBC News. "The problem with any Northern Hemisphere records is that they largely reflect where most major human activity has happened. But this Christmas tree records the far-reaching nature of that activity and we can't think of anywhere more remote than the Southern Ocean." The spruce shouldn't really be on Campbell Island, which is some 600km from the southern tip of New Zealand. Its natural habitat is found at northern Pacific latitudes, but a single tree was placed on the subantarctic island around 1905, possibly as the start of an intended plantation. The next nearest tree is on the Auckland Islands about 200km to the northwest. Prof Turney and colleagues drilled a fine core into the spruce, which has wide, sharply delineated growth rings, and examined the wood's chemistry. They found a big leap in the amount of carbon-14 in a part of a ring representing the latter half of 1965. This peak in the radioactive form of the element is an unambiguous signature of the atmospheric nuclear tests that occurred post-war. The radioisotope would have been incorporated into the tree as carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

2-19-18 Modern tech unravels mysteries of Egyptian mummy portraits
A new exhibit explores the science of ancient funeral paintings. Everybody’s a critic. Even back in second century Egypt. While digging in Tebtunis in northern Egypt in the winter of 1899–1900, British archaeologists stumbled upon portraits of affluent Greco-Egyptians placed over the faces of mummies. One grave contained an ink and chalk sketch, a bit larger than a standard sheet of printer paper, of a woman from around the years A.D. 140 to 160. The sketch includes directions from an unidentified source to the artist to paint the “eyes softer.” That ancient critique is now the name of a temporary exhibit at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art in Evanston, Ill. “Paint the Eyes Softer: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt” features the sketch, along with six more intact or nearly intact Egyptian funeral portraits, one still attached to its mummy. All were discovered more than a century ago but recently examined using modern scientific tools. The relics from this time period don’t resemble your granddad’s King Tut. Egyptians applied a new approach to mummies during the Roman-dominated era from the first through third centuries A.D. These mummies featured portraits of the deceased held in place by the linens wrapping the dead. Such paintings served as a prelude to other panel paintings in the ancient world, including Christian icons.

2-19-18 Mix of metals in this Picasso sculpture provides clues to its mysterious origins
Alloy ‘fingerprints’ help curators piece together where a sculpture was cast. An analysis of the metals in dozens of Picasso’s bronze sculptures has traced the birthplace of a handful of the works of art to the outskirts of German-occupied Paris during World War II. This is the first time that the raw materials of Picasso’s sculptures have been scrutinized in detail, conservation scientist Francesca Casadio of the Art Institute of Chicago said February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And the elemental “fingerprints” help solve a mystery surrounding the sculptures’ origins. “In collaboration with curators, we can write a richer history of art that is enriched by scientific findings,” Casadio said. Casadio and colleagues from the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., studied 39 bronzes in the collection of the Picasso Museum in Paris. The team used a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to record the amount of copper, tin, zinc and lead at several points on each sculpture.

2-18-18 Babies can recover language skills after a left-side stroke
Babies’ stroke-damaged brains can pull a mirror trick to recover. A stroke on the left side of the brain often damages important language-processing areas. But people who have this stroke just before or after birth recover their language abilities in the mirror image spot on the right side, a study of teens and young adults shows. Those patients all had normal language skills, even though as much as half of their brain had withered away, researchers reported February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Researchers so far have recruited 12 people ages 12 to 25 who had each experienced a stroke to the same region of their brain’s left hemisphere just before or after birth. People who have this type of stroke as adults often lose their ability to use and understand language, said study coauthor Elissa Newport, a neurology researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. MRI scans of healthy siblings of the stroke patients showed activity in language centers in the left hemisphere of the brain when the participants heard speech. The stroke patients showed activity in the exact same areas — just on the opposite side of the brain.

2-17-18 Electronic skin animates heartbeat on the back of your hand
A flexible e-skin containing a few hundred micro LEDs can display your vital signs or messages from your doctor. Wearing your heart on your sleeve could take on a whole new meaning. An electronic skin can display a person’s heartbeat whilst attached to the back of their hand. The e-skin displays a patient’s electrocardiogram – a waveform representing the electrical activity of the heart – based on data collected by an ultrathin, flexible sensor. The display stretches to 45 per cent of its original length allowing it to conform to the contours and movements of the body. The device’s creators are based at the University of Tokyo and Japanese company Dai Nippon Printing. Their new device features a 16 × 24 array of micro LEDs that can create complex, moving images. This is an improvement on a previous version that could only display a single digit or letter. The team believe that displaying medical information or important messages directly on the skin rather than on monitors is more accessible for less tech-savvy people. “People use and look at their hands much more frequently than smartphones,” says Someya, at the University of Tokyo, who is presenting the device at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. This could be particularly helpful for displaying important information. “For example, elderly people forget to take medicine. It would be nice if the skin display gently shows a reminder,” says Someya.

2-17-18 This stick-on patch could keep tabs on stroke patients at home
Motion sensors track speech and swallowing patterns. Stretchy sensors that stick to the throat could track the long-term recovery of stroke survivors. These new Band-Aid-shaped devices contain motion sensors that detect muscle movement and vocal cord vibrations. That sensor data could help doctors diagnose and monitor the effectiveness of certain treatments for post-stroke conditions like difficulty swallowing or talking, researchers reported February 17 in a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Up to 65 percent of stroke survivors have trouble swallowing, and about a third of survivors have trouble carrying on conversations. The devices can monitor speech patterns more reliably than microphones by sensing tissue movement rather than recording sound. “You don’t pick up anything in terms of ambient noise,” says study coauthor John Rogers, a materials scientist and bioengineer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “You can be next to an airplane jet engine. You’re not going to see that in the [sensor] signal.”

2-16-18 To hear the beat, your brain may think about moving to it
A brain region linked to movement is integral to recognizing rhythms. If you’ve ever felt the urge to tap along to music, this research may strike a chord. Recognizing rhythms doesn’t involve just parts of the brain that process sound — it also relies on a brain region involved with movement, researchers report online January 18 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. When an area of the brain that plans movement was disabled temporarily, people struggled to detect changes in rhythms. The study is the first to connect humans’ ability to detect rhythms to the posterior parietal cortex, a brain region associated with planning body movements as well as higher-level functions such as paying attention and perceiving three dimensions. “When you’re listening to a rhythm, you’re making predictions about how long the time interval is between the beats and where those sounds will fall,” says coauthor Jessica Ross, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Merced. These predictions are part of a system scientists call relative timing, which helps the brain process repetitive sounds, like a musical rhythm.

2-15-18 CRISPR has fixed the genetic cause of a learning disability
CRISPR gene editing has been used to alleviate the genetic disorder fragile X syndrome, but the technique has only been tried in cells in a dish so far. CRISPR gene editing has been used to repair a genetic form of intellectual disability in human brain cells in a dish. If the same technique can be done in the brain, it may help treat a range of genetic conditions. Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of intellectual impairment, affecting one in 4000 men, and one in 6000 women. It is caused by having a silenced version of a gene called FMR1, which typically causes someone to be a slow learner and have behavioural issues like hyperactivity and limited attention. The disorder has no cure, but there are hints that gene-editing techniques could help. Researchers have already shown it’s possible to make FMR1 active by slicing out mutations using CRISPR. Now, Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues have found a way to reactivate the FMR1 gene without having to alter its DNA sequence – an approach which may be safer and more ethical. The team used an emerging technique called “epigene-editing” to edit the small markers that sit on DNA and turn genes on and off.

2-15-18 Stem cells zapped with radiation can protect mice from cancer
Injections of killed stem cells, designed to help the immune system recognise cancers, have been found to protect mice from developing tumours. Rewinding skin cells back to their origins in the womb could provide a powerful new vaccine against multiple types of cancer. Joseph Wu of Stanford University, California, and his team have found that a mouse’s immune system can be primed to recognise and target cancer cells by vaccinating them beforehand with stem cells. This technique was inspired by evidence that cancers grow like embryos do, re-awakening many genes vital for rapid growth during pregnancy that had been switched off after birth. To help the immune system recognise this, the team took skin cells from mice and turned them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – primordial cells similar to those in a fetus. These iPSCs carry some of the same proteins on their surface as many cancer cells, says Wu. Before injecting these into the mice they had been made from, Wu’s team first killed the stem cells with radiation so that they wouldn’t grow inside the body, and combined them with a substance that helps trigger the immune system into action.

2-15-18 Migraines and heart trouble
Suffering from migraines could be a portent of serious heart problems, a major new study suggests. Using the Danish National Patient Registry, researchers identified 51,032 people with migraines—71 percent of them women—and 510,320 people who were migraine free. The participants were, on average, 35 years old at the start of the study, and so their overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease was small. But during the 19-year study, researchers found that people with migraines were 49 percent more likely to have a heart attack, 59 percent more likely to develop a blood clot in their veins, and 25 percent more likely to have an irregular heartbeat. They had nearly double the risk of stroke. The risks were all higher in the first year following a migraine diagnosis. “We now have accumulating evidence that migraine is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” study lead author Kasper Adelborg told The New York Times. There are several reasons migraines might be linked with heart problems. It could be that migraines are triggered by the sudden constriction of blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the brain and raising the risk for stroke. Anti-inflammatory drugs that are used to treat migraine pain could also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

2-15-18 Early Brit was black
Genetic testing of a 10,000-year-old skeleton found in an English cave has revealed that this early Briton had dark to black skin and blue eyes. Researchers from London’s Natural History Museum extracted DNA from the “Cheddar Man,” Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in Cheddar Gorge in 1903. At the time of the man’s death, the British landmass was connected to continental Europe, but as sea levels rose some 8,000 years ago, the peninsula became an island. Cheddar Man was a hunter-gatherer whose diet was rich in Vitamin D, but scientists believe that once his descendants began farming, evolution favored genes for lighter skin, which could absorb more Vitamin D from sunlight. Research shows he’s related to millions of Britons living today. “These imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions,” said archaeologist Tom Booth.

2-15-18 Fossil footprints may put lizards on two feet 110 million years ago
But the prints aren’t clear-cut, others say. Fossilized footprints from an iguana-like reptile provide what could be the earliest evidence of a lizard running on two legs. The 29 exceptionally well-preserved lizard tracks, found in a slab of rock from an abandoned quarry in Hadong County, South Korea, include back feet with curved digits and front feet with a slightly longer third digit. The back footprints outnumber the front ones, and digit impressions are more pronounced than those of the balls of the feet. The lizard’s stride length also increases across the slab. That’s what you’d expect to see in a transition from moseying along on four legs to scampering on two, says Yuong-Nam Lee, a paleontologist at Seoul National University who first came across the slab back in 2004. A closer examination two years ago revealed the telltale tracks. Lee and his colleagues attribute the tracks to a previously unknown lizard ichnospecies, that is a species defined solely by trace evidence of its existence, rather than bones or tissue. Lee and his colleagues have dubbed the possible perpetrator Sauripes hadongensis and linked it to an order that includes today’s iguanas and chameleons in the Feb. 15 Scientific Reports.

2-15-18 A dinosaur stomping ground
A 110 million–year-old slab of rock covered with dinosaur and ancient mammal tracks has been unearthed in NASA’s backyard. The remarkable rock was spotted in 2012 by amateur fossil hunter Ray Stanford, who noticed the distinctive footprint of a nodosaur—an armored, tank-like dinosaur—as he left the parking lot at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Years of excavation and analysis have since revealed that the 8.5-foot-long slab of sandstone has some 70 fossilized prints from at least eight different types of animal, making it one of the best fossil trackways in the world. The beasts that stomped through include a long-necked sauropod and bipedal, carnivorous theropods, and numerous small mammals. “I like to call it the Rosetta Stone,” Martin Lockley, a dinosaur-track expert who took part in the research, told The Washington Post. Because the tracks don’t overlap, Lockley suspects they were laid down within hours or days of one another. It’s thought that the grassy grounds where the rock was found were once a bustling wetland where dinosaurs and other animals searched for food.

2-15-18 The future of male birth control may be found in poisonous arrow tips
Reversible, effective male birth control is within sight. After decades of research, development of a male birth control may now be one step closer. My colleagues and I are working on a promising lead for a male birth control pill based on ouabain — a plant extract that African warriors and hunters traditionally used as a heart-stopping poison on their arrows. While the birth control pill has been available to women in the United States for nearly six decades — and FDA-approved for contraceptive use since 1960 — an oral contraceptive for men has not yet come to market. The pill has provided women with safe, effective, and reversible options for birth control, while options for men have been stuck in a rut. Today, men have just two choices when it comes to birth control: condoms or a vasectomy. Together, these two methods account for just 30 percent of contraception used, leaving the remaining 70 percent of contraceptive methods to women. An estimated 500,000 American men opt for a vasectomy each year — a small number given the need for contraception. Vasectomy is an invasive procedure to do that's also difficult and invasive to reverse. When it comes to birth control options for men, the need is clear. Unplanned pregnancy rates remain high across the globe. It's time for more options. Researchers are exploring both hormonal and nonhormonal options for male birth control pills. Current hormonal agents under study involve the sex steroids progestins and testosterone. Here at the University of Minnesota, my colleagues and I have focused on nonhormonal contraception methods that work by targeting sperm motility — biology-speak for the sperms' ability to move or swim effectively. Good motility is a necessary condition for fertilizing a female egg.

2-15-18 Surgical instruments may spread Alzheimer’s proteins
Amyloid protein, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, may be spread via surgical implements, but there isn’t evidence yet that this can transmit the disease. Surgical instruments may need to be cleaned more thoroughly after brain operations, following the news that they might be spreading proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There’s no evidence yet that spreading these proteins from one person to another can cause Alzheimer’s disease itself. But a study of eight people suggests that unclean instruments may sometimes lead to a rare and potentially fatal kind of brain bleeding disorder. People who have Alzheimer’s disease typically have plaques of sticky amyloid proteins in their brains, although it remains unclear whether these are a cause or a consequence of the condition. But when amyloid builds up in blood vessels in the brain, it can sometimes make them so brittle that they leak or burst. This condition, called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), usually doesn’t develop until people reach their sixties or older. But Sebastian Brandner, at University College London, and his team have been investigating the cases of eight people who developed CAA under the age of 60. Scouring their medical records, the team found that all eight of these people had undergone brain surgery during childhood or their teenage years for a variety of reasons. Of the eight people, at least three have already died from strokes, which can be caused by CAA. They died between the ages of 37 and 57.

2-15-18 What Europe's oldest wine tells us about ancient Sicilians
Discovered deep inside a cave, this 5,000-year-old wine sample sheds light on how our ancestors lived. Monte Kronio rises 1,300 feet above the geothermally active landscape of southwestern Sicily. Hidden in its bowels is a labyrinthine system of caves, filled with hot sulfuric vapors. At lower levels, these caves average 99 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 percent humidity. Human sweat cannot evaporate and heat stroke can result in less than 20 minutes of exposure to these underground conditions. Nonetheless, people have been visiting the caves of Monte Kronio since as far back as 8,000 years ago. They've left behind vessels from the Copper Age (early sixth to early third millennium B.C.) as well as various sizes of ceramic storage jars, jugs, and basins. In the deepest cavities of the mountain these artifacts sometimes lie with human skeletons. Archaeologists debate what unknown religious practices these artifacts might be evidence of. Did worshipers sacrifice their lives bringing offerings to placate a mysterious deity who puffed gasses inside Monte Kronio? Or did these people bury high-ranking individuals in that special place, close to what was probably considered a source of magical power? One of the most puzzling of questions around this prehistoric site has been what those vessels contained. What substance was so precious it might mollify a deity or properly accompany dead chiefs and warriors on their trip to the underworld? Using tiny samples, scraped from these ancient artifacts, my recent analysis came up with a surprising answer: wine. And that discovery has big implications for the story archaeologists tell about the people who lived in this time and place.

2-14-18 How clever biochemistry is tackling HIV
Just 30 years ago, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. Today, thanks to a scientific partnership of epic proportions, it is manageable with a single daily pill. IN 1981, doctors in the US became aware of a strange phenomenon. An unusual number of healthy young men in Los Angeles and other cities were falling ill and dying from rare infections and cancers. Their symptoms suggested that something was weakening their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to diseases they would normally fend off. More mysterious still, the condition appeared to be most prevalent among the gay community, intravenous drugs users and people who had frequent blood transfusions. Similar cases emerged in other countries and it soon became clear that the world was facing an epidemic of a new disease for which there was no cure. Doctors called the illness Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and within three years had found it was caused by a retrovirus. This virus could be passed on in several different ways: through unprotected sex, blood transfusions, sharing needles, and through pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. But how it could be stopped wasn’t clear. This was the start of an epic journey to find a treatment for one of the biggest killers of the last half-century. For years, the virus that causes AIDS, the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, had the upper hand. By 2000, 33 million people were infected, 14 million had died, and in Africa it had become the number one cause of death through infectious disease. Today, thanks to a series of biomedical breakthroughs and the painstaking work of thousands of researchers around the world, the tables have turned. Those with HIV can now live longer, fuller lives by taking a single daily dose of antiretroviral medicine.

2-14-18 How boosting your emotional intelligence can improve your life
Emotional intelligence is a skill — and you can master it. Emotional intelligence. Another "it" theory of the moment. The media's panacea of the week. Another great thing we all need — that nobody seems to be able to clearly define. Here's the thing: Emotional intelligence is real — but that vague two-sentence summary you read in an in-flight magazine isn't accurate and won't give you what you need to improve this curious little skill set. So what is it really? (I'm so glad you asked.) It's a concept that John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Yale professor Peter Salovey came up with in the early '90s that was subsequently studied and popularized by Daniel Goleman. Here's Mayer's definition. "From a scientific standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others' emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others' emotions." Now most of the work on emotional intelligence has been done around its effects in the workplace but it'll quickly become obvious how it can improve most any area of your life. And, for the record, yeah, EI does work. Research has shown EI has five component parts. Let's learn how to develop each one so that we can leverage its tremendous power to improve our lives at home and at work. Here's how to increase emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: "I should have posted this earlier in the week. When I'm really busy with super-important stuff or, um, when I see a cute puppy video on YouTube, I know blogging gets delayed."
  • Self-regulation: "You need to cool it with the puppy videos, Eric. Next time, we only watch the tiny Husky puppy howl like a little wolf once, and then we do a mini-meditation and get back to work. Seriously."
  • Motivation: "I have an Excel spreadsheet of puppy videos watched, mini-meditations done, and how often the blog posts have been completed on time. More posting, more meditating, fewer howling, insanely cute puppies."
  • Empathy: "I'm not going to beat myself up about this. The post still got done. I'm happy with it. And that puppy video was really cute. I'm showing some self-compassion here. Also, I'm including the puppy in my Loving-Kindness Meditation today. May the little guy live with ease."
  • Social skills: "Enough about me and my addiction; how are you?"

2-13-18 New antibiotic family discovered in dirt
US scientists have discovered a new family of antibiotics in soil samples. The natural compounds could be used to combat hard-to-treat infections, the team at Rockefeller University hopes. Tests show the compounds, called malacidins, annihilate several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to most existing antibiotics, including the superbug MRSA. Experts say the work, published in Nature Microbiology, offers fresh hope in the antibiotics arms race. Drug-resistant diseases are one of the biggest threats to global health. They kill around 700,000 people a year, and new treatments are urgently needed. Soil is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms that produce lots of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics. Dr Sean Brady's team at New York's Rockefeller University has been busy unearthing them. They used a gene sequencing technique to analyse more than 1,000 soil samples taken from across the US. When they discovered malacidins in many of the samples, they had a hunch it was an important find. They tested the compound on rats that they had given MRSA and it eliminated the infection in skin wounds. The researchers are now working to improve the drug's effectiveness in the hope that it can be developed into a real treatment for people. Dr Brady said: "It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. "It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity."

2-13-18 Genes remain active after death
Cells continue to function even after an individual dies. That's according to a scientific study published in Nature Communications. Analysing post-mortem samples, an international team of scientists showed that some genes became more active after death. As well as providing an important dataset for other scientists, they also hope that this can be developed into a forensic tool. Inside the cells of our bodies, life plays out under the powerful influence of our genes; their outputs controlled by a range of internal and external triggers. Understanding gene activity provides a perfect insight into what an individual cell, tissue or organ is doing, in health and in disease. Genes are locked away in the DNA present in our cells and when these are switched on, a tell-tale molecule called an RNA transcript is made. Some of the RNA directly controls processes that go on in the cell, but most of the RNA becomes the blueprint for proteins. It's the RNA transcripts that scientists often measure when they want to know what's going on in our cells, and we call this analysis transcriptomics.

2-13-18 Genes could record forensic clues to time of death
How our genetic machinery winds down may one day help solve criminal cases. Dying, it turns out, is not like flipping a switch. Genes keep working for a while after a person dies, and scientists have used that activity in the lab to pinpoint time of death to within about nine minutes. During the first 24 hours after death, genetic changes kick in across various human tissues, creating patterns of activity that can be used to roughly predict when someone died, researchers report February 13 in Nature Communications. “This is really cool, just from a biological discovery standpoint,” says microbial ecologist Jennifer DeBruyn of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who was not part of the study. “What do our cells do after we die, and what actually is death?” What has become clear is that death isn’t the immediate end for genes. Some mouse and zebrafish genes remain active for up to four days after the animals die, scientists reported in 2017 in Open Biology.

2-13-18 Skincare science is frivolous and warrants attack, right? Wrong
It won't save the world and is misused in adverts but skincare science isn’t nonsense. So why is resurgent interest in it under fire, wonders Lara Williams. Is the science behind skincare vacuous and deserving of criticism? Are women who take an interest in it falling for unfounded claims? Last week, online magazine The Outline generated a flurry of responses and disgruntled social media posts with its article “The Skincare Con”. It essentially answered yes to those questions, by decrying a recent reinvigoration of this part of the cosmetic industry as founded on little more than bad science, capitalism and status anxiety. The piece argued that skincare has increasingly become the “thinking woman’s quest”, founded on “buying things, and displaying them for others to see” and that “skin has withstood millions of years of evolution without the aid of tinctures and balms”. It cited a limited number of academic papers and experts claiming skincare has no basis in science, before claiming that current skincare routines are tantamount to “chemical violence”. There was a somewhat muddled thesis, arguing skincare is both fundamentally ineffective, while suggesting it might also be too effective, resulting in unpleasant chemical burns and other side-effects. The tone was condescending, with an implication that the products are frivolous and their users vain and underinformed. Yet interest in the science of male “vanity” issues, such as hair loss, goes mostly unchallenged; indeed, it is often reported as serious science. The science behind protein intake and muscle building has been validated. An interest in this isn’t viewed as vapid – and there is an assumption that those engaging in building muscle understand the principles behind their activities.

2-13-18 Amazon fish challenges mutation idea
Evolutionary theory suggests that species favouring asexual reproduction will rapidly become extinct, as their genomes accumulate deadly mutations over time. But a study on an Amazon fish has cast doubt on the rapidity of this decline. Despite thousands of years of asexual reproduction, the genomes of the Amazon molly fish are remarkably stable and the species has survived. Details of the work have been published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. There are two fundamental ways in which new generations of life come to being - sexual and asexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction relies on special reproductive male and female sex cells, the eggs and sperm, joining together during the process of fertilisation. Each sex cell contains half the number of chromosomes of normal parent cells, then following fertilisation, when the egg and sperm fuse, the normal cell chromosome number is reinstated. Asexual reproduction is different. Instead of creating a new generation by mixing equal measures of DNA from the mother and father, asexual reproduction dispenses with the male and instead creates new offspring containing an exact copy of the mother's genome - natural maternal cloning, if you like. This is an incredibly efficient way of creating new life. By not wasting genetic material on the creation of males, all offspring arising from asexual reproduction can go on to produce more.

2-13-18 Why human color vision is so odd
Compared to most other mammals, humans have an odd way of seeing the world. Most mammals rely on scent rather than sight. Look at a dog's eyes, for example: They're usually on the sides of its face, not close together and forward-facing like ours. Having eyes on the side is good for creating a broad field of vision, but bad for depth perception and accurately judging distances in front. Instead of having good vision, dogs, horses, mice, antelope — in fact, most mammals generally — have long damp snouts that they use to sniff things with. It is we humans, and apes and monkeys, who are different. And, as we will see, there is something particularly unusual about our vision that requires an explanation. Over time, perhaps as primates came to occupy more diurnal niches with lots of light to see, we somehow evolved to be less reliant on smell and more reliant on vision. We lost our wet noses and snouts, our eyes moved to the front of our faces, and closer together, which improved our ability to judge distances (developing improved stereoscopy, or binocular vision). In addition, Old World monkeys and apes (called catarrhines) evolved trichromacy: red-, green-, and blue-color vision. Most other mammals have two different types of color photoreceptors (cones) in their eyes, but the catarrhine ancestor experienced a gene duplication, which created three different genes for vision. Each of these now codes for a photoreceptor that can detect different wavelengths of light: one at short wavelengths (blue), one at medium wavelengths (green), and one at long wavelengths (red). And so the story goes our ancestors evolved forward-facing eyes and trichromatic vision — and we've never looked back.

2-13-18 Elongated heads were a mark of elite status in an ancient Peruvian society
A study of 211 skulls from a pre-Inca society suggests head-shaping developed over time. Bigwigs in a more than 600-year-old South American population were easy to spot. Their artificially elongated, teardrop-shaped heads screamed prestige, a new study finds. During the 300 years before the Incas’ arrival in 1450, intentional head shaping among prominent members of the Collagua ethnic community in Peru increasingly centered on a stretched-out look, says bioarchaeologist Matthew Velasco of Cornell University. Having long, narrow noggins cemented bonds among members of a power elite — a unity that may have helped pave a relatively peaceful incorporation into the Incan Empire, Velasco proposes in the February Current Anthropology. “Increasingly uniform head shapes may have encouraged a collective identity and political unity among Collagua elites,” Velasco says. These Collagua leaders may have negotiated ways to coexist with the encroaching Inca rather than fight them, he speculates. But the fate of the Collaguas and a neighboring population, the Cavanas, remains hazy. Those populations lived during a conflict-ridden time — after the collapse of two major Andean societies around 1100 (SN: 8/1/09, p. 16) and before the expansion of the Inca Empire starting in the 15th century. For at least the past several thousand years, human groups in various parts of the world have intentionally modified skull shapes by wrapping infants’ heads with cloth or binding the head between two pieces of wood (SN: 4/29/17, p. 18). Researchers generally assume that this practice signified membership in ethnic or kin groups, or perhaps social rank.

2-12-18 Even after bedbugs are eradicated, their waste lingers
Bedbug poop contains high levels of the allergy-triggering chemical histamine. Bedbugs leave a lasting legacy. Their poop contains a chemical called histamine, part of the suite of pheromones that the insects excrete to attract others of their kind. Human exposure to histamine can trigger allergy symptoms like itchiness and asthma. (Our bodies also naturally release histamine when confronted with an allergen.) Histamine stays behind long after the bedbugs disappear, scientists report February 12 in PLOS ONE. Researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh collected dust from apartments in a building with a chronic bedbug infestation. After a pest control company treated the apartments by raising the temperature to a toasty 50° Celsius, the researchers sampled the dust again. They compared those two sample groups with a third, from area homes that hadn’t had bedbugs for at least three years. Dust from the infested apartments had levels of histamine chemical that were 22 times as much as the low amount found in bedbug-free houses, the researchers found. And while the heat treatment got rid of the tiny bloodsuckers, it didn’t lower the histamine levels.

2-12-18 14 cattle eyeworms removed from Oregon woman’s eye
First known case of Thelazia gulosa infection in a human. A 26-year-old woman felt something in her left eye. For days, she couldn’t shake the sensation. But this was no errant eyelash or dive-bombing gnat. A week after that first irritation, the Oregon resident pulled a translucent worm, about a centimeter long, from her eye. With that harrowing feat, she became the first ever reported case of a human infestation with the cattle eyeworm, Thelazia gulosa. “This is a very rare event and exciting from a parasitological perspective,” says medical parasitologist Richard Bradbury of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “Perhaps not so exciting if you are the patient.” Over 20 days, she and her doctors removed 14 worms from her infected eye, researchers report online February 12 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. After that, no more irritation. T. gulosa is a nematode found in North America, Europe, Australia and central Asia. It infects the large, watchful eyes of cattle. The worm spends its larval stage in the abdomen of the aptly named face fly, Musca autumnalis. As the fly feasts on tears and eye secretions, it spreads the nematode larva, which then grow into adult worms.

2-9-18 The small intestine, not the liver, is the first stop for processing fructose
A new study in mice challenges assumptions of how the body metabolizes this type of sugar. When it comes processing fructose, the liver is a pinch hitter for the small intestine. To use fructose for energy, the body needs to convert it into another type of simple sugar called glucose or into other smaller molecules. Scientists knew fructose could be metabolized in both the liver and the small intestine, but believed the liver was mainly responsible for the process. A new study in mice suggests otherwise, showing that moderate doses of fructose — a sugar found in honey and fruit as well as such corn syrup sweetened products as soda — are transformed in the small intestine. The liver steps in only when the small intestine gets inundated, researchers report February 6 in Cell Metabolism. In that way, the small intestine shields the liver from dangerously high doses of fructose, says Joshua Rabinowitz, a metabolism researcher at Princeton University. In humans, too much fructose puts the liver at risk for conditions such as fatty liver disease, and raises the overall risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes (SN: 10/5/13, p. 18).

2-9-18 Deadly superbugs are evolving to beat alcohol hand sanitisers
Alcohol-based hand sanitisers were introduced in hospitals to stop the spread of drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA. Now it seems the bacteria have got the upper hand. Bacteria triumph again. Superbugs have found a way to alter their genes to make it harder to kill them with alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers were widely introduced to hospitals in the early 2000s to stop the spread of drug-resistant superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) on people’s hands. Although these bacteria had already evolved resistance to antibiotics, it was assumed they wouldn’t be able to do the same for alcohol. This is because alcohol kills them much faster by dissolving their outer membranes. But now it appears that this assumption wasn’t quite right. Although hospital MRSA rates have sharply declined since hand sanitisers were introduced, VRE rates have increased fivefold. This is concerning because more than half of infected patients do not survive. Research led by Timothy Stinear at the University of Melbourne and Lindsay Grayson at Austin Hospital suggests that VRE bacteria have developed alcohol tolerance.

2-9-18 Primitive human eggs matured in the lab for the first time
Human eggs have been removed in their most primitive state and brought to maturity in the lab for the first time, potentially boosting fertility treatments. Human eggs have been matured from their most primitive state to full development in the lab for the first time. The resulting eggs are ready to be fertilised, and, if healthy, could in theory be used to advance IVF treatments as well as helping women who had cancer when they were young. “It is really exciting,” says Michael Dahan at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada, who was not involved in the work. “It has the potential to improve treatment.” Scientists have been trying to develop human egg and sperm cells in the lab for years, in order to better understand how these cells work, and to improve treatments for the growing number of infertile couples and individuals. But until now, they’ve only managed it in animals like mice. “Working with mouse tissue is incredibly easy,” says Evelyn Telfer at the University of Edinburgh, who led the new work. “The composition of human tissue is quite different, and is not straightforward.” This is partly due to the presence of multiple supportive cells that surround the egg, making it more difficult to access and work with, she says. Telfer’s team have overcome this hurdle by persevering with their technique for years, continually tweaking it to get the conditions right for egg growth. “We’ve been bullish,” says Telfer. In their procedure, the team start with tiny pieces of ovarian tissue, taken from 10 female volunteers during caesarean section surgery.

2-9-18 Let your kids help you, and other parenting tips from traditional societies
Hunter-gatherers and farming villagers don’t write parenting handbooks, much less read them. But parents in WEIRD societies — Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — can still learn a few childrearing lessons from their counterparts in small-scale societies. It’s not that Western parents and kids are somehow deficient. But we live in a culture that holds historically unprecedented expectations about how to raise children. Examples: Each child is a unique individual who must be allowed to make decisions independently; children are precious and innocent, so their needs are more important than those of adults; and kids need to be protected from themselves by constant adult supervision. When compared to family life in foraging and farming cultures, and in WEIRD societies only a few decades ago, there is nothing “normal” about parenting convictions such as these. “Childhood, as we now know it, is a thoroughly modern invention,” says anthropologist David Lancy of Utah State University in Logan. He has studied traditional societies for more than 40 years.

2-8-18 First glimpse of how genes may cause mental health problems
Geneticists are starting to unpick what causes psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and even some autism-like developmental conditions. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism seem to have some similar effects on the brain. Analysing gene activity is taking us a step closer to understanding what causes such mental health conditions. Unlike cancer or Alzheimer’s, say, for which underlying biological causes have been identified, psychiatric disorders and some developmental disorders are defined by behavioural symptoms. We know that people born with certain gene variants can be more likely to develop schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism-like behaviour, but we don’t know what these genes might be doing, and how they might put people at risk. “The brain is an incredibly complex organ – if something is out of whack, something else can step in to compensate, so it’s very difficult to identify the fundamental problem,” says Jehannine Austin at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Now it seems that the way some brain cells work is changed in similar ways in these conditions. Daniel Geschwind at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his team have been studying brain tissue donated by people who had such brain-related conditions when they died, and working out how active different genes were in their brain cells.

2-8-18 Watch nerve cells being born in the brains of living mice
New images could help reveal the details of this neuron renewal. Brain scientists have filmed a first-of-a-kind birth video. It reveals specialized cells in the brains of mice dividing to create newborn nerve cells. The images, published in the Feb. 9 Science, show intricacies of how certain parts of the adult mouse brain can churn out new nerve cells. These details may help lead to a deeper understanding of the role of this nerve cell renewal in such processes as memory. Deep in the brains of mice, a memory-related structure called the hippocampus is known to be flush with new nerve cells. But because this buried neural real estate is hard to study, the circumstances of these births weren’t clear. Using living mice, Sebastian Jessberger, a neuroscientist at the University of Zurich, and colleagues removed the outer layers of brain tissue that obscure the hippocampus. The scientists marked 63 cells called radial stem cells, which can divide to create new nerve cells. Researchers then watched these stem cells for up to two months, taking pictures every 12 or 24 hours.

2-8-18 One daily cigarette is risky
If you assume there’s no harm in having an occasional cigarette, think again. New research from University College London found that people who light up just once a day are still about 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 30 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t smoke at all. “There’s been a trend in quite a few countries for heavy smokers to cut down, thinking that’s perfectly fine,” study leader Allan Hackshaw tells BBC.com. “But for these two common disorders, which they’re probably more likely to get than cancer, it’s not the case.” The researchers analyzed 141 studies to determine the heart-related risks associated with smoking one, five, or 20 cigarettes each day. They found that for men, a daily cigarette was linked with a 48 percent higher risk for heart disease and a 25 percent greater risk for stroke. For women, the risk for heart disease jumped to 57 percent, and the risk for stroke to 31 percent.

2-8-18 Rethinking human migration
The discovery of a prehistoric jawbone in Israel has added to a growing body of research challenging the long-held theory that modern humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. Archaeologists found the upper jaw in Misliya Cave, on the western slope of Mount Carmel. Using three different dating techniques, researchers at Tel Aviv University determined that the fossil is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old—nearly twice as ancient as previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa. Found alongside the jawbone were blades and other tools, which the researchers believe must have been made by modern man. The discovery, which has taken five years to confirm, is the latest evidence that modern humans may have mingled and mated with Neanderthals for thousands of years. “We are now realizing that it was not one big exodus out of Africa in a given time period,” lead researcher Israel Hershkovitz tells The New York Times. “Rather, there was a flow of hominins coming in and out of Africa for at least the last half million years.”

2-8-18 Oldest dog burial suggests prehistoric humans loved dogs as pets
A dog that was buried with its owners 14,000 years ago was chronically ill throughout its life, yet its owners repeatedly nursed it back to health – suggesting a deep bond of friendship. Even in the Stone Age, humans may have loved their dogs. A reanalysis of a prehistoric dog that was buried with two humans reveals that the animal had experienced several bouts of potentially lethal illness. The fact it survived suggests its owners cared for their dog as a pet. The Bonn-Oberkassel dog was unearthed a century ago in Germany, alongside the remains of a man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s. All are about 14,200 years old. The dog probably lived long after dogs were domesticated, as evidence for domestication stretches back at least 32,000 years. But the Bonn-Oberkassel dog is still a key specimen because it is the oldest known dog burial, says Luc Janssens at Ghent University in Belgium. That means it can help us understand why dogs were domesticated. Researchers have often assumed that humans domesticated dogs so they could put them to work. Maybe the first dogs helped us hunt, guarded settlements or were used as pack dogs for transport. However, Janssens and his colleagues say there is an alternative: that humans domesticated dogs simply because they liked having them as pets.

2-8-18 Bus-length dinosaur discovered
A huge new species of sauropod that lived about 80 million years ago has been unearthed in Egypt’s Sahara Desert, a discovery that could shed light on the mysterious final chapter in the age of dinosaurs. The long-necked plant-eater, Mansourasaurus shahinae, is among the largest animals ever to have walked the Earth. Part of the Titanosauria group, the prehistoric behemoth measured up to 33 feet long—almost school-bus length—and weighed 5.5 tons. Its fossilized remains were first discovered in 2014, in notably complete condition. “These things evolved 220 million years ago and went extinct about 66 million years ago,” paleontologist Matt Lamanna, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, tells The Washington Post. “Even, like, part of a tail from one of these sauropods would have been great.” Also of note was the fossils’ location. Because the continents began splitting apart during the Cretaceous period, between 145 million and 66 million years ago, many scientists believed the last dinosaurs living in Africa must have been isolated. But Mansourasaurus was more closely related to European and Asian dinosaurs than to those in southern Africa—suggesting the continent wasn’t completely cut off.

2-8-18 The wiring for walking developed long before fish left the sea
Neural circuitry for walking may have evolved in ancient fish as early as 420 million years ago. These fins were made for walking, and that’s just what these fish do — thanks to wiring that evolved long before vertebrates set foot on land. Little skates use two footlike fins on their undersides to move along the ocean floor. With an alternating left-right stride powered by muscles flexing and extending, the movement of these fish looks a lot like that of many land-based animals. Now, genetic tests show why: Little skates and land vertebrates share the same genetic blueprint for development of the nerve cells needed for limb movement, researchers report online February 8 in Cell. This work is the first to look at the origins of the neural circuitry needed for walking, the authors say.

2-8-18 DNA story of when life first gave us lemons
All citrus fruits can trace their roots to the southeast foothills of the Himalayas, according to DNA evidence. The first citrus trees appeared about eight million years ago, before spreading around the world, say international scientists. The trees eventually gave rise to the fruit on our kitchen tables, from sweet oranges to bitter lemons. Citrus trees are among the most widely cultivated fruit trees in the world, but their history has been unclear. To get a better understanding of where citrus trees came from, scientists in the US and Spain analysed the genomes of over 50 varieties of citrus fruit, from the Chinese mandarin to the Seville orange. The study, published in Nature journal, found that modern citrus trees derive from several natural species found in a region that includes the eastern area of Assam, northern Myanmar, and western Yunnan. When the climate changed millions of years ago, bringing weaker monsoons and drier weather, the plants were able to spread out of the Himalayas, and throughout southeast Asia. From there, they spread to the rest of the world, including to Australia about four million years ago. The analysis shows that today's citrus fruits are the result of millions of years of evolution, followed by thousands of years of human plant breeding. Genetic maps of the different citrus varieties found today may help scientists find out which fruits can withstand pests, and perhaps develop new citrus fruits. "Understanding the species diversity and genetic relatedness is the first step towards breeding new varieties of citrus fruits, both with desirable flavour and disease-resistance," said lead researcher Guohong Albert Wu of the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

2-7-18 The truth about what downing energy drinks really does to kids
Campaigners in the UK want energy drinks banned for under-16s. The latest scientific evidence suggests they are right – these drinks are uniquely bad for children. ARE energy drinks turning teens into hyperactive, unhealthy, disobedient delinquents? Public perceptions seem to be shifting towards believing that. In January, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign calling for a ban on sales of these drinks to children, and UK supermarkets wasted no time taking action. Waitrose was first, announcing plans to ban sales of the strongest drinks to under-16s. Others swiftly followed, vowing to introduce bans in March. It seems common sense that a cocktail of stimulants will make kids hyperactive, but is there any actual evidence that energy drinks are harming children? The industry often compares the amount of caffeine in energy drinks to that in a cup of coffee, suggesting it must be safe. But new research suggests that the unique mix in energy drinks may pose higher risks. Understanding what is in the beverages is key to managing that risk. Campaigners for a ban say it is important to distinguish energy drinks from sports drinks. Sports drinks contain lots of sugar, plus electrolytes, and are designed to quench thirst and rehydrate you after heavy exercise. It is the sugar in sports drinks that tends to be of concern. High sugar intake poses long-term risks of obesity, dental cavities and type-2 diabetes. What sets energy drinks apart is the combination of high sugar content and powerful stimulants, mainly caffeine, which rapidly and temporarily increases alertness, attention and energy in consumers. This can be followed by drowsiness and a slump when the effects wear off.

2-7-18 A much better asthma drug has shown promise in early experiments
Existing asthma drugs can fade in effectiveness and have side effects. But preliminary experiments suggest a new kind of drug could be more effective. A drug that can relax muscles could become a new treatment for asthma. Current asthma drugs, called beta-2 agonists, have a big problem. Many of the people who take them become temporarily or permanently less sensitive to them over time – a dangerous prospect for the 300 million people who have the condition worldwide. “This complication leads to 2 million emergency room visits and half-a-million hospitalisations of asthma patients each year in the US alone,” says Luis Ulloa of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. But Ulloa and his colleagues have been working with a new drug, called TSG12, which targets the smooth muscle cells that line our airways. In lab experiments, they found that it relaxes tensed-up human muscle cells 100 times more effectively than some existing beta-2 agonists. When the team induced an asthma-like response in mice using a dust mite allergen, they found that their drug reduced airway obstruction by 80 per cent. This may be around 30 times more effective than isoproterenol, a beta-2 agonist drug. Because the new drug specifically targets the muscle cells involved in asthma, it’s possible that it may also have fewer side effects than beta-2 agonists, which have effects elsewhere in the body and can stunt growth.

2-7-18 The worst mass extinction may have begun with mass sterilisation
There seems to have been a surge in ultraviolet radiation during the Permian extinction 252 million years ago, and it might have left plants infertile rather than kill them. We may have misunderstood the mother of all extinctions. The gargantuan Permian extinction has been blamed on massive volcanic eruptions that killed swathes of organisms, but the eruptions may instead have had an insidious effect: sterilisation. Organisms may not have been killed outright, but if they could not reproduce their species were still doomed. Almost all complex life died 252 million years ago at the end of the Permian period. The causes have long been debated. About a decade ago geologists began noticing something odd about fossil pollen from the time. An unusually high number of the pollen grains were malformed or under-developed. That might be because the volcanic activity at the time released ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere. As a result, more of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation reached Earth’s surface. The UV-B would have stressed plants, particularly the abundant conifers and seed ferns, which suffered during the extinction. To mimic this environmental upheaval, Jeffrey Benca, Ivo Duijnstee and Cindy Looy at the University of California, Berkeley exposed 18 dwarf conifers to elevated UV-B levels for 56 days. The tiny trees produced elevated levels of malformed pollen, as predicted. But something unexpected happened. Although the trees survived UV-B exposure, they were all rendered infertile throughout. The pines made seed cones, but these died before they grew large enough to be fertilised. “The shrivelled-up seed cones were a big surprise,” says Looy.

2-7-18 We can now read the whole genome of a fetus in the womb
Knowing the ins and outs of our children's genetic secrets before they are born could help reduce the likelihood of many diseases - but could it be misused? READING the whole genetic blueprint of a fetus long before birth could become a routine procedure thanks to a new blood test. As genetics increasingly informs prospective parents’ choices around conception, the test raises the prospect that it may soon become common to have an extensive understanding of a person’s genetic make-up before they are even born. The new test can be carried out in the first trimester and gives an idea of a fetus’s genetic traits and future disease risks. The idea is to give people choice over whether to proceed with a pregnancy if the fetus has a genetic condition, but some fear it will lead to unnecessary abortions. The method works by isolating many types of fetal cell from a pregnant woman’s blood, and sequencing the DNA of those that look most intact. It was already possible to sequence fetal genomes with an existing prenatal testing technique, but this was a painstaking process and couldn’t be used routinely. Fang Chen at the Beijing Genomics Institute in China and his team have used the new, easier method to sequence two fetal genomes. They found that one had gene variants associated with bowel cancer, liver disease and an intestinal disorder. The other had a gene variant linked to a severe salt imbalance disorder (Prenatal Diagnosis, doi.org/gcrwx9). (Webmaster's comment: China's advancements in science will soon dominate the science journals of the world.)

2-7-18 I got DNA tested to see if I would pass on diseases to my kids
Many doctors now suggest people consider getting their DNA checked for genetic diseases before starting a family. Alice Klein decided to take the test. I couldn’t help trembling slightly as I collected DNA from my mouth to send away for testing. My husband and I want to know our chances of having children with fragile X syndrome, which is passed on by the mother, so I was doing the test to see if I am a carrier. The test also screens for cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy – if I am a carrier for either of those, my husband will get tested too. We don’t have any of these conditions ourselves, and we don’t know of any affected relatives, but recent research shows this is true of 88 per cent of carriers. Most people only learn they are carrying gene variants for a genetic condition when they couple up with another carrier and have a child with the condition. This is why obstetricians in Australia and the US want all couples – not just those with family histories – to be offered pre-pregnancy screening to check their risk of passing on some specific genetic disorders to their children. Before I took the test, the Victorian Clinical Genetic Services in Melbourne organised a phone call for me with a genetic counsellor, who explained the options if we test positive. These include opting for IVF and screening for unaffected embryos, or getting pregnant naturally and using a first-trimester DNA test to decide whether to proceed.

2-7-18 Scientists are tracking how the flu moves through a college campus
The data could reveal more about how viruses spread. Campus life typically challenges students with new opportunities for learning, discovery — and intimacy with germs. Lots of germs. That makes dormitories and their residents an ideal natural experiment to trace the germs’ paths. “You pack a bunch of college kids into a very small environment … we’re not known as being the cleanliest of people,” says sophomore Parker Kleb at the University of Maryland in College Park. Kleb is a research assistant for an ongoing study tracking the spread of respiratory viruses through a student population. The study’s goal is to better understand how these viruses move around, in order to help keep illness at bay — all the more pressing, as the current flu season is on track to be among the worst recorded in the United States. Called “C.A.T.C.H. the Virus,” which stands for Characterizing and Tracking College Health, the study traces the trajectory of viral infections using blood samples, nasal swabs and breath samples from ailing freshmen and their closest contacts. (Tagline: It’s snot your average research study.)

2-7-18 Early Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark skin and blue eyes
A genetic analysis of Cheddar Man, one of the first people to settle in Britain after the last ice age, suggests that his skin was dark. The first modern Briton, who lived around 300 generations ago, had “dark to black” skin. Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. But an unprecedented examination of his DNA, along with a facial reconstruction of the fossil, shows that the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought, along with blue eyes and dark, curly hair. Previous reconstructions of Cheddar Man, which were not based on DNA data, depicted him with a lighter skin tone. The research and remodelling process was documented for an upcoming documentary called The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 year old man. Barnes and his colleague Selina Brace extracted DNA data from bone powder by drilling a 2-millimetre hole through the skull’s inner ear bone. They scanned the skull and a 3D model was produced by “palaeo artists” Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who make life-like reconstructions of extinct mammals and early humans. Cheddar Man is thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet. He lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated. Although previous populations had settled in Britain long before his arrival, they were wiped out before him and he marked the start of continuous habitation on the island.

2-7-18 Cheddar Man: DNA shows early Briton had dark skin
A cutting-edge scientific analysis shows that a Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes. Researchers from London's Natural History Museum extracted DNA from Cheddar Man, Britain's oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in 1903. University College London researchers then used the subsequent genome analysis for a facial reconstruction. It underlines the fact that the lighter skin characteristic of modern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon. No prehistoric Briton of this age had previously had their genome analysed. As such, the analysis provides valuable new insights into the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age. The analysis of Cheddar Man's genome - the "blueprint" for a human, contained in the nuclei of our cells - will be published in a journal, and will also feature in the upcoming Channel 4 documentary The First Brit, Secrets Of The 10,000-year-old Man. Cheddar Man's remains had been unearthed 115 years ago in Gough's Cave, located in Somerset's Cheddar Gorge. Subsequent examination has shown that the man was short by today's standards - about 5ft 5in - and probably died in his early 20s. Prof Chris Stringer, the museum's research leader in human origins, said: "I've been studying the skeleton of Cheddar Man for about 40 years. "So to come face-to-face with what this guy could have looked like - and that striking combination of the hair, the face, the eye colour and that dark skin: something a few years ago we couldn't have imagined and yet that's what the scientific data show."

2-6-18 Nano-claw snatches bacteria from blood like tiny Venus flytrap
Inspired by the Venus flytrap, a minuscule claw can grab pathogens from diseased blood and may prove useful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A NANO-SIZED claw inspired by the Venus flytrap can grab bacteria from infected blood. When harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream they can quickly multiply, causing life-threatening diseases like sepsis. Antibiotics can clean out the system, yet resistance is increasing. Infected blood can also be passed through a dialysis machine, catching the bugs in a filter. But fast-flowing blood sometimes pulls captured bacteria back into the stream. So Tie Wang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues made a claw-like filter that grabs passing bacteria. It is covered with bendy nanowires tipped with lectin – a protein that binds to carbohydrates such as the sugars bacteria have on their surface. The wires stick to and close over the bacteria, trapping them in a delicate cage. Tested on salmonella, the filter snared 97 per cent of the bugs compared with 10 per cent for a normal one (Nature Communications, doi.org/cj4z). The team says the trick will also work for viruses, cancer cells and even stem cells. Richard Stabler at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says it could help when antibiotics fail. “It would be hard to develop a resistance to being fished out like this,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Another cutting-edge science achievement from China.)

2-6-18 Ancient rock art rewrites the natural history of Arabia
The archaeological record suggests few large animals lived in Arabia in the last few thousand years, but prehistoric rock art from the area depicts a host of big beasts. Art carved into rock by prehistoric people can tell us a lot about the places they lived. Now rock engravings in north-west Saudi Arabia suggest that the region was once home to a host of unexpected animals. Skeletal remains are the best record of wildlife in prehistoric ecosystems. However, very few of these from the past 11,000 years have been found on the Arabian peninsula, so we don’t know which animals once lived there. To find out, Maria Guagnin at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and her colleagues studied rock art at Jubbah and Shuwaymis, a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site. The team examined more than 1400 rock engraving panels, some dating back to 8000 BC. The pictures contain around 6600 depictions of wildlife. The team could identify the exact species shown. Some of the art showed animals that have never been seen in the local archaeological record. For example, antelope called lesser kudu appeared in the engravings, given away by their distinctive spiral horns. Before now, there was little evidence that they ever left Africa. Another depiction resembles an aurochs, the wild progenitors of modern domestic cattle, which are mostly known from Europe and Central Asia. There were also representations of wild camels and African wild asses, neither of which is known from this part of Arabia. It was already known that Arabia experienced a humid period that ended 6000 years ago, and clearly the area was lush with plant life.

2-6-18 Dinosaurs ‘too successful for their own good’
A study mapping how dinosaurs spread across the world shows they may have been a victim of their own success. UK researchers believe they were already in decline before the killer asteroid hit because they had occupied every habitat on Earth. From their roots in South America, the dinosaurs migrated "in a frenzy of movement to cover the planet". Hundreds of different dinosaurs appeared, from the ferocious T. rex to the gigantic long-necked Diplodocus. But by the time the asteroid struck, killing them off, they were starting to decline, as they had ran out of space on Earth. (Webmaster's comment: Just like humans have!) The theory, outlined in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, reconstructs the paths taken by the dinosaurs as they moved out of South America. "They burst on to the scene and really quickly moved to all parts of the Earth," said Dr Chris Venditti of the University of Reading, a co-researcher on the study. The dinosaurs were able to take advantage of a "blank canvas" left by the extinction known as the Great Dying, just before they appeared, he said. They quickly spread across the devastated planet, taking up every opportunity to expand, with little competition for food, space or resources from other animals. But towards the end of their reign, their progress slowed, as they became adapted to almost every habitat on Earth. Only avian dinosaurs survived to become the birds we know today. "They'd filled the Earth, there was nowhere to move to and they were really specialised in their habitat so they couldn't produce new species," said Dr Ciara O'Donovan of the University of Reading. "It would have been the final nail in the coffin for them apart from the birds."

2-5-18 Some people with epilepsy can learn to stop their own seizures
Alertness training seems to help some people with epilepsy to stop themselves from having seizures, and has been linked to changes in their brain structure. Some people with epilepsy can be trained to think themselves out of having a seizure. The technique may work by strengthening nerve pathways that can damp down overactive parts of the brain. Epileptic seizures happen when brain cells become too excitable and start firing out of control. This sometimes starts in just a small region, and then spreads over a wider area. Most people with epilepsy can keep it under control with medicines, but this doesn’t work in around a third of cases. This has prompted a growing interest in psychological approaches to controlling or alleviating the disorder – not least because stress is known to worsen epilepsy – such as mindfulness training, yoga, and taking up a sport. Several studies have suggested that seizures can be reduced by a form of biofeedback training – techniques that give people information about their body, such as their blood pressure, to help them try to control it. The use of biofeedback training in medicine is controversial though, with some suspecting it works mainly through a placebo effect. In epilepsy, such training has been designed to teach people to raise their level of mental alertness – a factor that is linked to how much we sweat. People have pads put on their hands that are connected to a computer monitor, giving them feedback on their sweat gland activity.

2-5-18 Rare wooden tools show that Neanderthals got creative with fire
Wooden tools are hardly ever preserved, but a cache found in Italy suggests Neanderthals made them with fire and used them to dig up foods like tubers. A RARE cache of wooden tools created by Neanderthals suggests our cousins knew how to make implements with fire and used them to dig up plants buried underground for food. Biancamaria Aranguren of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism in Florence and her colleagues have excavated a site in Italy known to have been inhabited by Neanderthals, called Poggetti Vecchi. They found 58 wooden artefacts mixed in with stone tools and animal bones. “Historical wooden tools are very rarely found,” says Aranguren. They normally rot away. Most of the wooden artefacts are made of boxwood, and 39 are clearly tools: sticks about 1 metre long, with a point at one end and a rounded “handle” at the other. Radiometric dating shows they are at least 171,000 years old. “The most important finding is that they have been partially charred,” says Aranguren. The Neanderthals probably did this to remove twigs and the outer bark from the tough boxwood. When her team tried to make similar sticks out of boxwood, they could only do it using fire. That Neanderthals used fire at this time is “not surprising”, says Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands. “The archaeological record says fire use became common… from 300,000 to 400,000 years ago,” he says. The evidence for earlier fire use is much more sporadic.

2-5-18 'Extraordinary' fossil sheds light on origins of spiders
An "extraordinary" spider "cousin" trapped in amber for 100 million years is shaking up ideas about the origins of spiders. The ancient creature had a tail, unlike its modern relatives. It belongs to a group of arachnids (spiders, scorpions and the like) that were related to true spiders. Researchers say it's possible - but unlikely - that the animal might still be alive today in the rainforests of southeast Asia. The creature's remote habitat and small size makes it possible that tailed descendants could still be living in Myanmar, where the fossils were found, said Dr Paul Selden of the University of Kansas. "We haven't found them, but some of these forests aren't that well-studied, and it's only a tiny creature," he said. Myanmar has yielded a treasure trove of discoveries of skin, scales, fur, feathers and even ticks preserved in fossilised tree resin. This find dates back to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs like T. rex walked the Earth. The arachnid has an unusual mixture of ancient and modern features.

2-2-18 Fossil from south Wales named as new reptile species
A fossil from south Wales has finally been identified as a new ancient species of small lizard. The reptile would have shared its home with other dinosaurs 200 million years ago, in what would become the Vale of Glamorgan. The fossilised remains were found in rocks collected at Pant-y-Ffynnon quarry near Bonvilston in the 1950s. It has been name Clevosaurus cambrica by the Bristol University undergraduate who made the discovery. "We compared it with other examples of Clevosaurus from locations around Bristol and south Gloucestershire, but our new beast is quite different in the arrangement of its teeth," explained Emily Keeble, who compiled the research for the final year of her palaeontology degree.

2-2-18 Concussions not the only cause of CTE
Most research into the causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with former professional football players, has focused on concussions. But a major new study has confirmed that CTE can also result from repeated, seemingly minor blows to the head—not just the big collisions that leave players woozy or unconscious. Researchers examined the brains of four teenage athletes who died within four months of sustaining a sports-related head injury. One was posthumously diagnosed with CTE; the others had brain changes associated with the condition. To determine the cause of CTE, scientists then exposed mice to repeated head trauma akin to what football players experience during a game or military personnel face during combat. They found that the rodents’ brains showed the same signs of CTE-associated pathologies as the athletes’ brains did—even when the animals had displayed no signs of concussion. Lead author Lee Goldstein of Boston University says about 20 percent of known cases of human CTE involve no record of concussion. “The concussions we see on the ballfield or the battlefield—those people are going to get attention,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. “We’re really worried about the many more people who are getting hit and getting hurt—their brain is getting hurt—but are not getting help. It’s the hits, not the concussions, that cause CTE.” CTE can currently be diagnosed only during an autopsy, but those suspected of suffering from the disease tend to exhibit symptoms including memory loss, confusion, impulsivity, and depression.

2-2-18 Don’t stop when you retire
A sunny and stress-free retirement has long been part of the American Dream. But a new study suggests that once people ditch the daily grind, their brain function takes a dramatic nosedive, reports The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). Researchers from University College London and King’s College London monitored the brain function of about 3,400 British civil servants over 30 years, a period covering both the later part of their careers and the first 14 years of their retirement. The cognitive tests showed that the workers’ verbal memory declined 38 percent faster once they retired—a change that affected even high-ranking employees who used to have mentally challenging jobs. The researchers stress that staying mentally active and socially engaged during retirement helps protect against cognitive decline. Cary Cooper, an expert in organizational psychology from Manchester Business School in England, says that rather than just doing sudokus or crosswords, seniors should try their hand at something completely different from what they did in their jobs. “If you worked in the civil service all your life, why not go and help out in a hospital or teach?” he says. “The most important thing is to interact with people.”

2-2-18 The spice that boosts memory
An active compound found in the Indian spice turmeric could help improve memory and ease depression among those with age-related mental decline, new research suggests. Scientists at UCLA gathered 40 volunteers between 50 and 90 years old, all with some memory complaints but none with dementia. Each person was randomly assigned to take either a supplement of curcumin or a placebo pill twice a day for 18 months; over that period they were given memory tests, mood questionnaires, and brain scans to detect the clumps of plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The results were striking: Those taking curcumin saw a 28 percent improvement in their memory function, compared with a slight decline for those in the placebo group. They also had better mood scores and less plaque buildup in two brain regions responsible for memory, decision making, and emotion. “Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain,” study leader Gary Small tells Forbes.com. “But it may be due to its ability to reduce brain in?ammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.”

2-2-18 Catching obesity
Obesity may effectively be contagious. Researchers collected weight and height data for 1,519 military families who had been assigned to 38 military bases across the U.S. They then compared this data with obesity rates in the counties in which the bases were located, which ranged from 21 to 38 percent. They found that the people who had moved to communities with higher rates of obesity were more likely to become obese themselves—and that the longer they remained in those areas, the greater their risk. The researchers argue that there is a subconscious influence, or “social contagion,” that plays a role in obesity. “Living in a community where obesity is more common can make sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating [and] obesity more socially acceptable,” lead author Ashlesha Datar, from the University of Southern California, tells MedicalExpress .com. The good news? Living in areas with low obesity rates appears to have the opposite effect, reducing the likelihood that people will be overweight.

2-2-18 Sprawling Mayan network discovered under Guatemala jungle
Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Mayan ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough. Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications. The landscape, near already-known Mayan cities, is thought to have been home to millions more Mayans than other research had previously suggested. The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten. Results from the research using "revolutionary" Lidar technology, which is short for "light detection and ranging", suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilisation more akin to sophisticated cultures like ancient Greece or China, National Geographic reports. "The Lidar images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated," Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist, told the magazine.

2-1-18 A blood test could predict the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
High-tech analysis picks up minuscule bits of amyloid-beta floating in plasma. A new blood test might reveal whether someone is at risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. The test measures blood plasma levels of a sticky protein called amyloid-beta. This protein can start building up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients decades before there’s any outward signs of the disease. Typically, it takes a brain scan or spinal tap to discover these A-beta clumps, or plaques, in the brain. But evidence is growing that A-beta levels in the blood can be used to predict whether or not a person has these brain plaques, researchers report online January 31 in Nature. These new results mirror those of a smaller 2017 study by a different team of scientists. “It’s a fantastic confirmation of the findings,” says Randall Bateman, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the earlier study. “What this tells us is that we can move forward with this [test] approach with fairly high confidence that this is going to pan out.”

2-1-18 At least three types of bacteria may help cause bowel cancer
Evidence is growing that bacteria can cause bowel cancer. Now two common species have been found to cause DNA damage, and have been linked to tumours in mice. Evidence is growing that bacteria can cause bowel cancer. Two kinds of microbes that are found in colon tumours have been shown to cause cancers in mice. The two commonly found species, Escherichia coli and Bacteroides fragilis, together cause DNA damage that could lead to cancer-causing mutations, although it has not yet been shown they do the same in people. Cynthia Sears of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in Baltimore, Maryland, and her team found that E. coli and B. fragilis were invading the colon wall in tissue samples taken from people with an inherited form of colon cancer. These species have also previously been found in the more common non-inherited form of bowel cancer, at a higher rate than in healthy colon samples. When the two species were put into mice predisposed to get bowel cancer, they dramatically increased the number of tumours that formed. A third species of bacteria has also been implicated in bowel cancer previously. “There could be particular bacteria that start the process and other bacteria that pile on and make it worse,” says Sears.

2-1-18 How to use mindfulness to manage your anger
5 powerful secrets for finding inner peace. There's a voice shouting. Takes a second before you realize it's yours. You feel energized. Righteous. Driving every point home. It's like the climax of a courtroom drama and you're the hero. Too bad you're saying a lot of stuff you're definitely going to regret in 20 minutes. But, hey, at least you're getting it off your chest, right? Venting the anger. Um, no, actually. "Venting" just makes anger worse. And as if the short term damage wasn't enough, the jokes about anger and heart attacks aren't very far off the mark. At all. So what really reduces anger? Mindfulness. Trendy, I know. Before you go shopping for meditation cushions, perhaps it would be good to have an actual definition of the word. So how do we learn to be mindful? Dialectical Behavior Therapy is the research-backed weapon of choice against Borderline Personality Disorder, an affliction marked by overwhelming emotions that was previously regarded as untreatable. And it's based on mindfulness. If DBT can help borderlines get their anger under control, it can squash yours like a bug. DBT works. Time to get some mindfulness insights from DBT and learn how to soothe the savage beast inside you so your life doesn't end up looking like a Godzilla double feature. Here's how to overcome anger with mindfulness:

  1. Study your anger: It's hard to prevent something if you don't know what causes it. (And that can be downright infuriating, frankly.)
  2. Avoid triggers: Now that you know what causes your anger, stay away from those things. This is the most obvious, most effective, and most ignored piece of advice you'll get. Be resourceful or be furious.
  3. Train your mind: Practice the mindfulness exercise above. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of I CAN'T STAND THIS ANYMORE! DO YOU HEAR ME?!
  4. Break the loop: Address the physical elements, the thoughts, and the behaviors that are associated with your anger and you can prevent it from spiraling out of control.
  5. Ride the wave: Put mindfulness into action. Note the thoughts, feel the feelings, but don't do anything that's going to get you jail time.

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