74 Evolution News Articles
for March 2018
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3-18-18 First anatomical evidence of several types of schizophrenia
Is there more than one type of schizophrenia? Brain scans suggest there are at least two different kinds - a finding that may lead to better treatments. Is there more than one type of schizophrenia? Brain scans now suggest there are at least two different kinds of the psychiatric disorder, a finding that backs up what many have long suspected and may one day lead to more specialised treatments for specific sets of symptoms. About 1 per cent of people have schizophrenia, and those with it can have a range of symptoms, from hallucinations and delusions to problems with social interactions and cognitive performance. Not only do symptoms vary for each person, but so do their responses to drug treatments. Antipsychotic drugs clear only some people’s hallucinations, for example. And there are no good treatments for relieving the social and cognitive effects of the disorder. This diverse range of symptoms and responses has led many people to wonder whether there are distinct types of schizophrenia. But so far this hasn’t worked very well – subcategories based on symptoms were recently abandoned after they were found to be unreliable. “There was no stability in symptoms over time,” says Nikolaos Koutsouleris of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Koutsouleris and his colleagues are on the hunt for ways to define subtypes of schizophrenia using biology, not symptoms. The idea is that biological factors should provide a more objective insight into a person’s condition, and be more informative about how to treat it.
3-17-18 Why we make bad life choices
As it turns out, humans aren't always the best at decision-making. there I was, looking at an enormous wall of television screens. Each one flashed the exact same scene — a beautiful flower slowly blooming to reveal each petal, pistil, and stamen in exquisite super high definition detail. It was downright sexy. But now it was time to make my choice. Would I buy the $400 television within my budget or would I splurge on the $500 deluxe model that somehow helped me understand plant biology in a new, more intimate way? Though every cone and rod in my eyeballs begged me to buy the better one, my more sensible instinct kicked in. "Your budget is $400, remember?" Sighing, I bought the crappy model and braced for a life of media mediocrity. But then, a strange thing happened. When I fired up the new set at home, it looked fine. Better than fine, in fact. It looked great! I couldn't figure out why I even wanted the pricier model in the first place.
- Why the change of heart? Among a host of brain biases, I fell victim to distinction bias — a tendency to over-value the effect of small quantitative differences when comparing options.
- Choose for chocolate: In studies, about two-thirds of people opt for more chocolate.
- Your brain isn't that smart: Psychologists believe we are in two different modes when we compare options versus when we experience them.
- How to outsmart your brain:
- Don't compare options side by side
- Know your "must-haves" before you look
- Optimize for things you can't get used to
3-17-18 Essential oils in hygiene products may make boys grow breasts
Some substances in lavender and tea tree essential oils seem to mimic the hormone oestrogen, which could explain why they have been linked to breast growth. Essential oils from plants are touted as having many beneficial properties. But just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they’re harmless – two commonly used plant oils seem to mimic female hormones in the body, occasionally causing boys to grow breasts. Chemicals from lavender are often used in toiletries for their scent, and are said to aid relaxation. Tea tree oil is a mild antiseptic and a common ingredient of children’s hair products as it is claimed to prevent head lice, although there is little evidence to show it works. But both of these may have side effects. In 2007, doctors reported three cases of prepubescent boys who had started developing small breasts, despite having the expected hormone levels for their sex and age. Breast growth in all three boys began when they started using products such as soap or shampoo that contained lavender or tea tree oils. A similar effect has been reported with a lavender cologne popular with Hispanic communities in the US, however tests on rats have suggested lavender oil has no such effect. To investigate this, Kenneth Korach of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina and his team have been investigating eight chemicals that must be present in a product for it to be marketed as containing either of these plant oils.
3-16-18 The FDA wants to cut the nicotine in cigarettes by a third
Tobacco companies could be forced to slash the amount of nicotine in US cigarettes, under radical plans from the Food and Drug Administration. Tobacco firms could be forced to slash the amount of nicotine in US cigarettes, under radical plans from the Food and Drug Administration. Proposals announced yesterday would see the amount of nicotine in most existing cigarettes cut by a third, from about 1.5 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette down to between 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams. It’s the nicotine in cigarettes that make them addictive, and according to one analysis, this change would cause 5 million people to quit smoking in the first year and deter 33 million people from taking it up by 2100. The FDA is now seeking feedback on this plan, but critics are warning this could lead to a lucrative black market for higher-nicotine cigarettes. “It carries a serious risk of unintended consequences,” says Deborah Arnott of UK campaign group Action on Smoking and Health. The idea of forcing tobacco firms to lower the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes as a way of making them less addictive has been mooted for years. But studies have shown that when given tobacco with only a little less nicotine, smokers instinctively get more from each cigarette by inhaling more deeply or covering air holes with their fingers. “People smoke in such a way that lets them reach the blood level of nicotine they want,” says Martin Jarvis of University College London.
3-16-18 Bacteria-killing nanofibres could make clothes that stop disease
Antimicrobial fabric could slow the spread of diseases like Ebola. These nanofibres kill viruses and bacteria, and their active ingredient recharges in daylight. In outbreaks of lethal pathogens like the Ebola virus or food-borne bacteria, health care workers and lab staff alike need the most effective antimicrobial clothing they can get. But there is a problem with today’s bug-busting suits, face masks and gloves: the active ingredient, or biocide, impregnated into their fabrics is consumed in the process of destroying the virus or bacterium – so they get less and less effective over time. Not for much longer, perhaps. Polymer chemists led by Yang Si and Gang Sun at the University of California in Davis have engineered a biocidal material where the active ingredient is constantly recharged by a widely available, free resource: broad daylight. The team say this fibrous membrane can be inserted into the fabric of protective clothing. It was formed in a process called electrospinning, in which polymers are melted and then drawn into threads that can be criss-crossed to make a mat-like membrane that has pores that trap viruses and bacteria. Sun and Si used electrospinning to create a membrane from two substances: a plant extract called chlorogenic acid which is then grafted onto benzophenone, an additive from sunscreen, soap and perfume. Both substances have the useful property that, in daylight and in the presence of oxygen, they produce pathogen-killing hydroxl radicals and superoxides – collectively known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS. The oxygen comes from air, while the hydrogen is produced by the nanomaterial.
3-16-18 Inked mice hint at how tattoos persist in people
Immune cells pass pigment from one generation to the next. Tattoos may have staying power because of a hand off between generations of immune cells known as macrophages, say a group of French researchers. If true, this would overturn notions that tattoo ink persists in connective tissue or in long-lasting macrophages. Immunologist Sandrine Henri of the Immunology Center of Marseille-Luminy, in France, and colleagues tattooed mice tails with green ink to see how waste-disposing macrophages in the skin would respond. “Macrophages will scavenge everything. That’s their job,” Henri says. “If they could do their job properly, tattoo ink would be removed rapidly.” In the experiment, described March 6 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, macrophages gobbled up the ink as expected, but did not digest and remove it. Instead, the cells held onto the ink until the researchers killed the cells. About 90 days later, new macrophages moved in and reabsorbed the ink. This capture-release-recapture cycle was key to preserving the tattoos, the researchers say.
3-16-18 Electrodes fitted behind your ear can make you walk faster
A type of electrical skull stimulation makes us step out faster with longer strides – a finding that could help people with balance disorders to walk more easily. Mild electrical stimulation just behind the ear seems to boost our balance and makes us walk more quickly with longer strides. The finding could lead to a device that helps people with balance disorders get around more easily. When we move, hairs in our inner ears detect changes in speed and feed this information back to the brain, helping to stabilise vision and posture, improving our balance. Shinichi Iwasaki, at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and his colleagues have found that electrical stimulation seems to enhance this, prompting people to walk faster. To target the hair cells of volunteers, his team placed electrodes over their mastoids – a part of the skull just behind the ear. They used these to deliver electrical current that fluctuated in frequency, making it a “noisy” signal – but not in the audible sense. In previous experiments, the team had found that this kind of stimulation improved people’s posture while standing still. This time, the team asked participants to wear a portable stimulator and walk at a speed they felt comfortable with for 15 metres. In this experiment, 19 people were exposed to this kind of stimulation at a range of currents up to 1000 microamps, and with no current at all.
3-15-18 The power of touch
The simple act of holding hands with a loving partner can significantly reduce physical pain, a new study suggests. Researchers asked 22 heterosexual couples who had been together for at least a year to undergo brain scans as they participated in different scenarios. The women either sat holding hands with their partners, sat nearby but did not touch them, or were in a different room. The scenarios were then repeated, but this time the women were subjected to mild pain. Overall, the women found that holding hands reduced the intensity of their pain by an average of 34 percent. The brain scans showed that when the couples held hands, their brain waves became synchronized—and that this “coupling” effect was even greater when the women were in pain. The researchers speculate that supportive touch could help people feel understood, which may trigger pain-reducing reward systems in the brain. “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world, and we have fewer physical interactions,” lead author Pavel Goldstein, from the University of Colorado Boulder, tells ScienceDaily.com. “This [research] illustrates the power and importance of human touch.”
3-15-18 Band-aid made of youthful protein stops wounds from scarring
Wounds heal faster and without visible scarring when given patches containing a skin protein that we make more of when we’re very young. A band-aid made of a protein that’s more common in fetal skin can heal wounds quickly, with no visible scarring. We know from in utero surgery that fetus skin doesn’t scar. One reason for this is that it contains scaffolds of a protein called fibronectin that help re-order skin cells after injury. But skin loses most of this fibronectin by birth. From then on, it re-forms in a haphazard way when it’s damaged, leaving thick, lumpy scars. Christophe Chantre at Harvard University and his colleagues wondered if they could restore the seamless healing of fetal skin by coating wounds with fibronectin fibres. They synthesised long, fibrous webs of fibronectin protein in the lab, and cut these into circular patches that were 1 centimetre in diameter. They then tested them on eight adult mice that each had two deep wounds on their back. For each mouse, one wound was covered with a fibronectin patch and a protective plastic film, and the other just with plastic film. The fibronectin-treated wounds healed faster and closed by day 11, three days faster than the untreated ones. By day 16, they had no visible scarring and were covered with new fur.
3-15-18 The ocean can make you sick
People who swim in the sea have a significantly higher risk of developing nasty infections, reports MedicalDaily.com. Scientists at the University of Exeter in England analyzed 19 studies involving more than 120,000 people living in wealthy, developed countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. They found that those who swim in the ocean are 77 percent more likely to develop an earache, 44 percent more likely to have diarrhea, and at 29 percent greater risk for a gastrointestinal infection. The researchers say fecal bacteria from pollution is to blame, noting that thousands of tons of agricultural runoff, sewage, and other wastes are dumped into the ocean each day. “We’ve come a long way in terms of cleaning up our waters,” says research supervisor Will Gaze. “But our evidence shows there is still work to be done.”
3-15-18 Our ancestors mated with the mystery ‘Denisovan’ people – twice
The genes of extinct hominins called Denisovans live on in people from China and Papua New Guinea, suggesting two instances of cross-species breeding. Our ancestors mated with another species of ancient hominins, the Denisovans, on at least two occasions. The discovery suggests that Denisovans were widely across Asia, and apparently co-existed happily with modern humans, to the point of having children with them in two different parts of the ancient world. The Denisovans were unknown until 2010, when researchers described a fragment of a girl’s finger bone found in Denisova cave in Siberia. Soon afterwards, researchers sequenced its genome from the surviving DNA. The DNA did not belong to any known hominins, such as Neanderthals, so it had to be something new. What’s more, around 5 per cent of the DNA of some Australasians – particularly people from Papua New Guinea – is Denisovan. Humans evidently mated with Denisovans 50,000 or more years ago. But this posed a puzzle: why were the present-day descendants of Denisovans so far from the Denisovans’ Siberian home? The simplest explanation was that Denisovans lived throughout much of Asia, including South East Asia, not just Siberia. Sharon Browning of the University of Washington in Seattle and her colleagues have now found evidence of a second instance of human-Denisovan interbreeding – on the Asian mainland.
3-15-18 Ancient climate shifts may have sparked human ingenuity and networking
Stone tools suggest rise of humanlike behaviors by 320,000 years ago. Dramatic shifts in the East African climate may have driven toolmaking advances and the development of trading networks among Homo sapiens or their close relatives by the Middle Stone Age, roughly 320,000 years ago. That’s the implication of discoveries reported in three papers published online March 15 in Science. Newly excavated Middle Stone Age tools and red pigment chunks from southern Kenya’s Olorgesailie Basin appear to have been part of a long trend of climate-driven behavior changes in members of the Homo genus that amped up in H. sapiens. Locations of food sources can vary unpredictably on changing landscapes. H. sapiens and their precursors responded by foraging over larger areas with increasingly smaller tools, the researchers propose. Obsidian used for the Middle Stone Age tools came from far away, raising the likelihood of long-distance contacts and trading among hominid populations near humankind’s root. At roughly 320,000 years old, the excavated Middle Stone Age tools are the oldest of their kind, paleoanthropologist Rick Potts and colleagues report in one of the new papers. Researchers had previously estimated that such tools — spearpoints and other small implements struck from prepared chunks of stone — date to no earlier than 280,000 to possibly 300,000 years ago. Other more primitive, handheld cutting stones made of local rock date from around 1.2 million to 499,000 years ago at Olorgesailie. Gradual downsizing of those tools, including oval hand axes, occurred from 615,000 to 499,000 years ago, a stretch characterized by frequent shifts between wet and dry conditions, the scientists say.
3-15-18 Changing environment influenced human evolution
Humans may have developed advanced social behaviours and trade 100,000 years earlier than previously thought. This is according to a series of papers published today in Science. The results come from an archaeological site in Kenya's rift valley. "Over one million years of time" is represented at the site, according to Rick Potts from the Smithsonian Institution, who was involved in the studies. There are also signs of developments in toolmaking technologies. Environmental change may have been a key influence in this evolution of early Homo sapiens in the region of the Olorgesailie dig site. Early humans were in the area for about 700,000 years, making large hand axes from nearby stone, explained Dr Potts. "[Technologically], things changed very slowly, if at all, over hundreds of thousands of years," he said. Then, roughly 500,000 years ago, something did change. A period of tectonic upheaval and erratic climate conditions swept across the region, and there is a 180,000 year interruption in the geological record due to erosion. It was not only the landscape that altered, but also the plant and animal life in the region - transforming the resources available to our early ancestors. When the record resumes, the way of life of these early humans has completely changed. "The speed of the transition is really remarkable," Dr Potts said. "Sometime in that [gap] there was a switch, a very rapid period of evolution."
3-15-18 Liverwort reproductive organ inspires pipette design
The tool relies on water’s surface tension to hold a droplet. The sex organs of primitive plants are inspiring precise pipettes. Liverworts are a group of ground-hugging plants with male and female reproductive structures shaped like tiny palm trees. The female structures nab sperm-packed water droplets by surrounding them with their fronds, like an immobilized claw in an arcade machine. Scientists have coopted that design to create a plastic pipette that can pick up and transfer precise amounts of water, researchers report March 14 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Normally, the female reproductive structures of the umbrella liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) clutch the spermy droplets beneath their fronds around the stems. But researchers flipped the umbrella-like cap upside down and stuck it onto a needle so it instead resembled a broom. That rejiggered liverwort could capture a droplet when dipped into water. Tilted at just the right angle, the drop slid back out.
3-14-18 Hospital admissions show the opioid crisis affects kids, too
More kids are suffering the consequences of opioid poisoning, an analysis of pediatric intensive care units shows. The rise in the abuse of opioids — powerfully addictive painkillers — is driven by adults. But kids are also swept up in the current, a new study makes clear. The number of children admitted to pediatric intensive care units at hospitals for opioid-related trouble nearly doubled between 2004 and 2015, researchers report in the March Pediatrics. Researchers combed through medical records from 46 hospitals around the United States, looking for opioid-related reasons for admission to the hospital. When the researchers looked at children who landed in pediatric intensive care units for opioid-related crises, the numbers were grim, nearly doubling. In the period including 2004 to 2007, 367 children landed in the PICU for opioid-related trouble. In the period including 2012 to 2015, that number was 643. (From 2008 to 2011, 554 kids were admitted to the PICU for opioid-related illnesses.) Most opioid-related hospital admissions were for children ages 12 to 17, the researchers found. The available stats couldn’t say how many of those events were accidental ingestions versus intentional drug use. (Though for older kids, there’s a sliver of good news from elsewhere: Prescription opioid use among teenagers is actually down, a recent survey suggests.) But about a third of the hospitalizations were for children younger than 6. And among these young kids, about 20 percent of the poisonings involved methadone, a drug that’s used to treat opioid addiction. That means that these young kids are getting into adults’ drugs (illicit or prescribed) and accidentally ingesting them.
3-14-18 New shades: The controversial quest to ‘fix’ colour blindness
Worldwide, 300 million people lack full colour vision. We try out a pair of specs that aim to "fix" colour blindness, and ask if that's something we want to do. Around the world, 300 million people lack full colour vision. For most, from the moment they first opened their eyes as newborns, they saw the world with a different palette to others. And I am one of them. So when I discovered the hype around the glasses, I had to try them. But this obsession over a way to correct colour blindness also got me thinking. How big a problem is colour deficiency really? And do we actually want to treat it? Humans see in colour thanks to cone cells in the retina. There are three types of these cells, each tuned to different wavelengths of visible light that roughly correspond to what we see as three colours: blue (short wavelengths), green (medium) and red (long). In most people, the brain uses the output of the cells to process a full spectrum of colours. These individuals are called trichromats. But 1 in 12 men and 1 in 150 women are affected by colour blindness, of which there are several kinds. It affects more men than women because the faulty gene responsible is passed on via the X-chromosome – so women need two copies to have the condition, otherwise their unaffected X-chromosome can compensate.
3-14-18 The shocking truth of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments
Milgram dismayed the world when he revealed how little it took to turn everyday people into torturers – but we were misled. WEARING a neat suit and tie, Adolf Eichmann brought the horror of Nazi concentration camps into American living rooms, making a new generation aware of the second world war’s atrocities. Eichmann was a high-ranking officer of the Third Reich, and his trial for war crimes was televised nightly across the US from April to August 1961. Stanley Milgram was riveted. He was a 26-year-old assistant professor at Yale University with childhood memories of the war, such as gathering around the radio with his family in their Brooklyn apartment for news of Jewish relatives in Eastern Europe. As the trial unfolded, Eichmann insisted he was merely following orders. This gave Milgram an idea for a research project that would become one of the most controversial experiments in the history of psychology. Milgram’s exploration into the limits of obedience to authority captured the public imagination, not least because of his chilling conclusion: that the majority of us could become torturers with just a few words of encouragement from a single authority figure. I arrived at Yale in 2007, excited to take a close look at this classic experiment and its recently released archive material. But what I found revealed a disturbing, twisted tale. This landmark research is as misunderstood as it is famous. In the early 1960s, social psychology was still an emerging discipline, one that quickly gained a reputation for experiments that concealed their true nature so as to trick people into behaving naturally. Pioneers like Milgram were expected to develop storytelling, acting and stagecraft skills as part of their research toolkit.
3-14-18 A quarter of people have bad reactions to fragranced products
Growing numbers of people say they get asthma, migraines or skin problems when they’re exposed to chemicals in products like deodorants and air fresheners. Increasing numbers of people in the US say that exposure to fragranced products is making them ill. According to a survey of more than 1100 people, one in four are now sensitive to everyday chemicals found in products like deodorants and air fresheners. “We’re exposed to these chemicals continuously, but people may not realise they’re being harmed until it’s too late, and then they have chemical sensitivity,” says Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, who conducted the survey. Back in 2002, less than 3 per cent of respondents to a similar survey said they had been medically diagnosed with sensitivity to such chemicals. But in the latest survey, this has risen to 13 per cent, with 26 per cent diagnosing themselves as experiencing physical reactions to chemicals. Asthmatic problems were most prominent, reported by 71 per cent of those with medically diagnosed sensitivity and 59 per cent of the self-reporters. Migraines, skin problems and shortness of breath were also commonly reported symptoms. Of the 145 respondents with medically-diagnosed sensitivity, almost 60 per cent said they could no longer bear to visit public restrooms that use air fresheners, deodorisers or scented products. More than half—55 per cent—couldn’t wash their hands if soaps contained fragrances. Of those who had been medically diagnosed, 58 per cent were men, and 42 per cent were women. The most sensitive age group in men was ages 25 to 34.
3-14-18 Ten connected miniature organs are best human-on-a-chip yet
Ten miniature organs have been connected together to create the closest we’ve come yet to a human-on-a-chip – a system that may one day replace animal testing. Ten miniature models of various human organs have been connected together to create the closest we’ve come yet to a human-on-a-chip. The system survived for four weeks, and allowed scientists to test the effects of a common painkiller on multiple organs. Such systems could eventually do away with animal testing, says Linda Griffith at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the work. Scientists around the world have been developing organs-on-chips. These typically comprise a 3D structure that contains multiple types of cells from a particular organ, and they are kept alive with a continuous flow of a nutrient-rich fluid. This makes them more representative of human organs in the body than cells in a tube or animal models, says Griffith. In 2011, Griffith and her colleagues were awarded a $37 million grant by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to connect 10 such organs together to better mimic the human body. “I thought it was super-ambitious, but we ultimately did it,” says Griffith. The team began by connecting their models of the lung, gut, and endometrium to a liver chip. Once they had got this working, they added other organs-on-chips – brain, heart, pancreas, kidney, skin and muscle. All of the tissue in the organs on chips survived for the four weeks they were tested, says Griffith. The organs-on-chips also showed signs of acting like true human organs, producing similar proteins. When the team applied a common painkiller called diclofenac to the gut chip, they found that other chips seemed to respond similarly to human organs.
3-13-18 Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing
Studies suggest the oscillations created by nerve cell activity have roles of their own. We can’t see it, but brains hum with electrical activity. Brain waves created by the coordinated firing of huge collections of nerve cells pinball around the brain. The waves can ricochet from the front of the brain to the back, or from deep structures all the way to the scalp and then back again. Called neuronal oscillations, these signals are known to accompany certain mental states. Quiet alpha waves ripple soothingly across the brains of meditating monks. Beta waves rise and fall during intense conversational turns. Fast gamma waves accompany sharp insights. Sluggish delta rhythms lull deep sleepers, while dreamers shift into slightly quicker theta rhythms. Researchers have long argued over whether these waves have purpose, and what those purposes might be. Some scientists see waves as inevitable but useless by-products of the signals that really matter — messages sent by individual nerve cells. Waves are simply a consequence of collective neural behavior, and nothing more, that view holds. But a growing body of evidence suggests just the opposite: Instead of by-products of important signals, brain waves are key to how the brain operates, routing information among far-flung brain regions that need to work together. MIT’s Earl Miller is among the neuroscientists amassing evidence that waves are an essential part of how the brain operates. Brain oscillations deftly route information in a way that allows the brain to choose which signals in the world to pay attention to and which to ignore, his recent studies suggest.
3-13-18 Dinobird Archaeopteryx only flew in short bursts like a pheasant
The bird-like dinosaur Archaeopteryx could flap its wings to fly, but only for short bursts – like a modern pheasant flapping to escape danger. A winged dinosaur widely regarded as the first bird seems to have flown like a pheasant. The Jurassic dinobird Archaeopteryx flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance active flight. Nor could it glide and soar, like modern-day birds of prey. Instead, Archaeopteryx probably made short bursts of limited low-level flight to escape danger, scientists believe. Present day pheasants adopt the same strategy when they take to the air to avoid predators, or gun-waving humans. The new study involved using a powerful X-ray beam to probe fossil bones. It also confirmed that 150 million years ago Archaeopteryx was an “active” flyer. It flapped its wings and properly flew, rather than gliding from tree to tree. Scientists conducted the research at ESRF, the European Synchrotron facility in Grenoble, France. Here, electrons accelerated around a circular tunnel generate X-rays 100 billion times more powerful than those in hospitals. The X-rays can be employed to analyse the internal structure of numerous different materials, including fossils. For the new study, the ESRF X-ray beam was used to peer inside the bones of three Archaeopteryx specimens without damaging the valuable fossils.
3-13-18 Dino-bird had wings made for flapping, not just gliding
Fossil analysis suggests Archaeopteryx was capable of bursts of flight, like today’s pheasants. Archaeopteryx was a flapper, not just a glider. The shape of the ancient bird’s wing bones suggests it was capable of short bursts of active, flapping flight, similar to how modern birds like pheasants and quails fly to escape predators, a new study finds. One of the earliest birds, Archaeopteryx lived about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, spanning the evolutionary gap between modern birds and feathered dinosaurs. Fossils of the primitive fowl have been instrumental in the recognition that birds are dinosaurs (SN Online: 7/31/14). But researchers have long wrangled over how well these ancient dino-birds could fly. Archaeopteryx doesn’t have several features considered essential to flight in modern birds, such as a keeled breastbone to which several important flight muscles attach; a ball-and-socket arrangement that allows the wing to flap fully up over the back and down again; and a muscle pulley system that links chest and shoulder muscles, allowing the birds to swiftly alternate between powerful downstrokes and upstrokes. Previous researchers also have suggested that Archaeopteryx’s plumage was too delicate and might have snapped with vigorous flapping (SN: 6/5/10, p. 12). Based on these observations, the primitive bird was thought to merely glide from branch to branch, rather than flapping its wings to fly.
3-13-18 Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists
The famous winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of flying, according to a new study. An international research team used powerful X-ray beams to peer inside its bones, showing they were almost hollow, as in modern birds. The creature flew like a pheasant, using short bursts of active flight, say scientists. Archaeopteryx has been a source of fascination since the first fossils were found in the 1860s. Treading the line between birds and dinosaurs, the animal was a similar size to a magpie, with feathered wings, sharp teeth and a long bony tail. After scanning Archaeopteryx fossils in a particle accelerator known as a synchrotron, researchers found its wing bones matched modern birds that flap their wings to fly short distances or in bursts. "Archaeopteryx seems optimised for incidental active flight," said lead researcher Dennis Voeten of the ESRF, the European Synchrotron facility in Grenoble, France. "We imagine something like pheasants and quails," he told BBC News. "If they have to fly to evade a predator they will make a very quick ascent, typically followed by a very short horizontal flight and then they make a running escape afterwards." The question of whether Archaeopteryx was a ground dweller, a glider or able to fly has been the subject of debate since the days of Darwin. Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh, UK, who is not connected with the study, said this was the best evidence yet that the animal was capable of powered flight. "I think it's case closed now," he said. "Archaeopteryx was capable of at least short bursts of powered flight. It's amazing that sticking a fossil into a synchrotron can reveal so much about how it behaved as a real animal back when it was alive."
3-13-18 Humans 'thrived' after historic Mount Toba eruption
Early humans may have flourished after the largest volcanic eruption in history, according to new research. Mount Toba erupted in Indonesia about 74,000 years ago. The event was long thought to have caused a volcanic winter, drastically reducing the global human population at the time. Recent excavations in South Africa suggest that settlements there not only endured the cataclysm, but may have "thrived" in its wake. The findings complement previous work in Lake Malawi, which searched lake bed cores for evidence of a global climate catastrophe at the time of the eruption, but could find none. An international team excavated two sites on the south coast of South Africa, finding evidence of human activity both before and after the eruption. "We're the first ones to really address the question of the Toba hypothesis in Africa. It's in Africa that it really counts, because that's the source location of modern humans," Dr Marean, an author of the paper published yesterday in Nature, told BBC News. The scientists found tiny shards of volcanic glass in the sediment at both sites. These form part of the debris ejected from a volcano during an eruption, known as tephra. When chemically analysed, the shards were found to be a match for Mount Toba, around 9,000 km away. These are thought to be the first volcanic deposits of their kind recorded so far from their source; further testament to the strength of the Toba eruption. It is believed to have been the largest on Earth in the last 2.5 million years.
3-13-18 Tracing sickle cell back to one child, 7,300 years ago
New research suggests that the history of sickle-cell disease goes back to a mutation in just one person, a development researchers hope will make treatment less complicated for the many people who suffer from this painful illness. So how have they traced it and why does it matter? The story of sickle-cell disease is, first and foremost, a study in how a good thing can come with bad consequences. Once upon a time in what is now the Sahara desert, a child was born with heightened immunity to malaria - important because at the time, this part of Africa was wet and rainy and covered with forest. It was a great habitat for mosquitoes, which carry malaria, a disease that these days kills one child every two minutes. With a better chance against an illness that was a major killer, then as now, this child with the genetic mutation lived and had children, and those children spread out, all bolstered with extra defences against malaria and living for longer, and their descendants around the world still have those extra defences today, more than 250 generations later. But here's where the bad consequences come in. If both your parents have that gene mutation, you can end up with sickle cell disease, which brings severe pain and other complications to its patients. These include shortness of breath, strokes and vision problems. And people who inherit the gene from both parents do not have its protection against malaria. The researchers say they traced the mutation back for 7,300 years, and found it started with just one child.
3-12-18 Found: more than 500 genes that are linked to intelligence
Intelligence is thought to be up to 80 per cent genetic, but it’s been hard to pin down the genes involved. Now the largest study of its kind has found hundreds. More than 500 genes associated with intelligence have been identified in the largest study of its kind. Researchers used data from the UK Biobank, comparing DNA variants from more than 240,000 people. Their analysis identified 538 genes linked to intellectual ability, and 187 regions of the human genome that are associated with thinking skills. Some of these genes are also linked to other biological processes, including living longer. However, even with all these genes, it’s still difficult to predict a person’s intelligence from their genomes. When they analysed the DNA of a group of different people, the team were only able to predict 7 per cent of the intelligence differences between those people. It is thought that around 50 to 80 per cent of variation in general intelligence between people is down to genetics. But environment plays a role too. Well-nourished children brought up in safe, unpolluted and stimulating environments score better in IQ tests than deprived children, for instance.
3-12-18 Psychopaths pay less attention to what other people are thinking
Psychopaths in films and TV are often masters of manipulation, but in real life they’re not so good at subconsciously registering other people’s perspectives. Psychopaths in films and TV are often masters of manipulation, but in real life they’re not so good at taking other people’s perspectives into account. The ability to understand that other people can have different beliefs and opinions to our own develops in the first few years of our lives. Known as theory of mind, this plays a fundamental role in our social interactions. Recent evidence suggests that theory of mind has two components – an explicit kind, where we consciously reason about what someone else is thinking, and a more automatic version that influences our decision-making subconsciously. Psychopaths are known to be have normal abilities when it comes to explicitly working out what other people are thinking. But Arielle Baskin-Sommers of Yale University and her colleagues have now found out that psychopaths are worse than the average person at subconsciously registering someone else’s perspective. The team recruited 106 prisoners from a maximum-security prison in Connecticut. Using a standard mental health questionnaire, the team found that 22 of them were psychopathic, 28 were definitely not psychopathic, and the others scored somewhere in the middle.
3-12-18 Being in a relationship really does seem to make you fatter
A massive study has found that couples tend to have healthier lifestyles than single people, but that doesn’t stop them from piling on the pounds. You really do put on weight in a relationship. A massive study has found that couples tend to have healthier lifestyles than single people, but that doesn’t stop them from piling on the pounds. To investigate the links between relationship status and health, Stephanie Schoeppe, at Central Queensland University in Australia, and her colleagues analysed a decade of survey data from over 15,000 volunteers. Each person had answered questions about their lifestyle choices, such as how active they were, how much fast food they ate, and how much time they spent watching television. In their analysis, the team accounted for variables that might affect a person’s responses, including their age, sex, employment status and level of education. They found that couples and singles seem to do the same amount of physical activity, and watch similar amounts of television. But generally, people in relationships seemed to make other healthier lifestyle choices, says Schoeppe. Couples ate more fruit and vegetables and less fast food, they drank less alcohol, and they smoked less too. Other studies have shown that if couples are happy with their relationship, they’re more likely to want to live healthier lifestyles because they want their relationship to last longer too, says Jerica Berge, at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
3-12-18 Genes have a role in empathy, study says
It helps us to make close connections with people, and influences how we behave in a range of situations, from the workplace to a party. Now scientists say empathy is not just something we develop through our upbringing and life experiences - it is also partly inherited. A study of 46,000 people found evidence for the first time that genes have a role in how empathetic we are. And it also found that women are generally more empathetic than men. Empathy has an important role in our relationships. It helps us recognise other people's emotions and it guides us to respond appropriately, such as by knowing when someone is upset and wants to be comforted. It is largely considered to be something we develop through childhood and our life experiences. But in this new paper, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, scientists looked to see if how empathetic we are can be traced to our genes. Participants in the study had their "empathy quotient" (EQ) measured with a questionnaire, and gave saliva samples for DNA testing. Scientists then looked for differences in their genes that could explain why some of us are more empathetic than others. They found that at least 10% of the differences in how empathetic people are is down to genetics.(Webmaster's comment: The fact that women are more empathic than men should have been a strong clue that empathy has a strong genetic component.)
3-12-18 Muscle loss in old age linked to fewer nerve signals
Researchers say they may have worked out why there is a natural loss of muscle in the legs as people age - and that it is due to a loss of nerves. In tests on 168 men, they found that nerves controlling the legs decreased by around 30% by the age of 75. This made muscles waste away, but in older fitter athletes there was a better chance of them being 'rescued' by nerves re-connecting. The scientists published their research in the Journal of Physiology. As people get older, their leg muscles become smaller and weaker, leading to problems with everyday movements such as walking up stairs or getting out of a chair. It is something that affects everyone eventually, but why it happens is not fully understood. Prof Jamie McPhee, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said young adults usually had 60-70,000 nerves controlling movement in the legs from the lumbar spine. But his research showed this changed significantly in old age. "There was a dramatic loss of nerves controlling the muscles - a 30-60% loss - which means they waste away," he said. "The muscles need to receive a proper signal from the nervous system to tell them to contract, so we can move around." Although it is not known why connections between muscles and nerves break down with age, finding out more about muscle loss could help scientists find ways of reversing the condition in the future.
3-12-18 How biology breaks the ‘cerebral mystique’
The Biological Mind explores how the brain, body and environment make us who we are. At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society. In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, now a neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain — its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural — as the “cerebral mystique.” Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff’s goal is to show that the brain doesn’t work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. “Self” doesn’t just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.
3-11-18 Depression among new mothers is finally getting some attention
Why is a happy time of life a dark time for some women? On the hormonal roller coaster of life, the ups and downs of childbirth are the Tower of Power. For nine long months, a woman’s body and brain absorb a slow upwelling of hormones, notably progesterone and estrogen. The ovaries and placenta produce these two chemicals in a gradual but relentless rise to support the developing fetus. With the birth of a baby, and the immediate expulsion of the placenta, hormone levels plummet. No other physiological change comes close to this kind of free fall in both speed and intensity. For most women, the brain and body make a smooth landing, but more than 1 in 10 women in the United States may have trouble coping with the sudden crash. Those new mothers are left feeling depressed, isolated or anxious at a time society expects them to be deliriously happy. This has always been so. Mental struggles following childbirth have been recognized for as long as doctors have documented the experience of pregnancy. Hippocrates described a woman’s restlessness and insomnia after giving birth. In the 19th century, some doctors declared that mothers were suffering from “insanity of pregnancy” or “insanity of lactation.” Women were sent to mental hospitals. Modern medicine recognizes psychiatric suffering in new mothers as an illness like any other, but the condition, known as postpartum depression, still bears stigma. Both depression and anxiety are thought to be woefully underdiagnosed in new mothers, given that many women are afraid to admit that a new baby is anything less than a bundle of joy. It’s not the feeling they expected when they were expecting.
3-10-18 How a physical injury can cause mental pain
Among African-American men, injuries affect more than the body. Surviving an injury — particularly one that resulted from a violent action — can cause significant emotional and mental-health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For marginalized communities, the risk factors for violence and injury are disproportionately higher: According to the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, more than 60 percent of African-American youth in the United States are victims of crime, and almost 40 percent witness violence during their childhood. New research shows that exposure to violence and injury can affect more than just the individual's psyche; it causes them to become distant from important support networks, and can change the way they interact with and confide in those close to them. The study, published in Injury, shows a significant number of African-American men in the United States who experience acute intentional injury withdrew from their families and peers, loosening support networks necessary to withstand the emotional effects that accompany physical injury. The study surveyed 74 African-American men, all of whom were over the age of 18 and lived in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area. The researchers interviewed the men in their own homes for three months after their discharge from the hospital. Men were excluded from the study if they had a diagnosis of PTSD, depression, or an active psychotic disorder at the time of the injury. Understanding the disparities in emotional response can help in the formation of medical response, emotional treatment, and lasting support, especially for those in under-resourced communities, explains the study's co-author, Therese Richmond, the associate dean for research and innovation at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
3-9-18 Young babies disapprove when they see adults acting immorally
Even four-month-old infants expect adults to go comfort another baby that is crying – a finding that suggests we may be born with a foundation of morality. Even four-month-old infants expect adults to comfort crying babies. The finding suggests that we may be born with a foundation of morality that becomes the basis for more advanced moral and social behaviour in later life. Psychologists have long debated whether moral behaviour is innate or learned. In 2007, Kiley Hamlin and colleagues at Yale University found that 6-month-old and 10-month-old babies prefer people who help others, and show an aversion to those who don’t. But to understand how we develop our moral beliefs, we need to know not just whether babies prefer those who help others, but also whether they expect such behaviour. To find out, Renée Baillargeon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleagues played videos to babies aged 4 months and 12 months. The videos showed an unfamiliar woman folding laundry, with a stroller at the back of the room. In some of the videos, the stroller began to shake, and there was the sound of a baby crying, suggesting that the stroller contained an infant in distress. In one video, the woman went to rock the stroller and stop the baby crying. In another, she just continued to fold laundry, ignoring the baby. It’s well known that when infants are surprised by something that does not follow their expectations, they spend longer looking at it. The team found that the infants looked significantly longer at the video in which the adult ignored the baby, suggesting they expected her to comfort it.
3-9-18 Museum mummies sport world’s oldest tattoo drawings
Infrared photography reveals animals and symbolic designs from 5,000 years ago. Two human mummies housed at the British Museum in London for more than a century boast the world’s oldest known — and longest hidden — tattoos of figures and designs, a new investigation finds. These people lived in Egypt at or shortly before the rise of the first pharaoh around 5,100 years ago. Radiocarbon analyses of hairs from the mummies date the bodies to between 3351 B.C. and 3017 B.C., says a team led by Egyptologist Renée Friedman of the University of Oxford and bioarchaeologist Daniel Antoine of the British Museum in London. Infrared photography revealed that smudges on a male mummy’s upper right arm depict a wild bull and a Barbary sheep, while a female mummy bears four S-shaped patterns on her right shoulder and a line with bent ends on her right arm. These animals and figures appear in Egyptian art from the same period, the researchers report online March 1 in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Both sets of tattoos — which consist of a carbon-based pigment, possibly soot — may have symbolized power, social status or knowledge of cult activities, but their precise meanings are unclear. The two were the only mummies found with tattoos, out of seven mummies originally buried at a southern Egyptian site and now held at the British Museum. All of the bodies had been preserved by the desert’s dry heat.
3-9-18 Brain zap can make people re-experience old dreams while awake
While déjà-vu is a false feeling of familiarity, déjà-rêvé is a rare experience of suddenly recalling a dream – and it can be sparked by zapping the brain. People with epilepsy sometimes recall old dreams during seizures. Now a study has found that stimulating a particular part of their brains with electricity can also make this happen. “I saw something, a dream – a nightmare I had a couple of years ago. An object on a table,” said one person analysed in the study. This phenomenon is called déjà-rêvé, which means “already dreamed”. While déjà-vu is a feeling of familiarity for a new situation, déjà-rêvé seems to be much rarer, and usually involves recalling a thought experience that happened while sleeping. To understand it better, Jonathan Curot, of Toulouse University Hospital, France, and his colleagues collected examples of déjà-rêvé from 23 people from published studies, and seven people whose experiences had been recorded in epilepsy treatment databases. All of them reported déjà-rêvé-like occurrences when undergoing electrical brain stimulation to assess which regions of their brains seemed to be involved in their epileptic seizures. “I had the reminiscence of a dream I had a few days ago,” said another. “I was in a closed room, I felt the atmosphere, [and] I saw an orange colour,” said one person who received brain stimulation at the epilepsy treatment centre where Curot works.
3-9-18 Ancient birds couldn’t sit on their eggs without smashing them
The first birds to evolve had hip bones that forced them to lay small, weak eggs that could not support the adult bird’s weight. Early birds like Archaeopteryx were far too heavy to sit on their eggs without cracking them. The conclusion holds true for non-bird dinosaurs too, leading to fresh doubts about how to interpret spectacular fossils that appear to show dinosaurs brooding their eggs. Most birds today lay eggs with strong, hard shells. This strength is necessary because many birds practice contact incubation – meaning the adult rests its body weight directly on the eggs. But just because modern bird eggs can support the weight of a brooding adult it doesn’t necessarily follow that ancient bird eggs could, says Charles Deeming at the University of Lincoln, UK. To investigate, Deeming and his colleague – Gerald Mayr at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Germany – looked at fossils of 21 species of bird that lived alongside the dinosaurs during the Jurassic and Cretaceous. For each species, they studied the bones of pelvis and estimated the size of egg that the bird could have comfortably laid. A recent study suggests there is a predictable relationship between egg size and strength, which means Deeming and Mayr could predict what sort of load the eggs of their ancient birds could have withstood before cracking.
3-8-18 Newer drugs make hepatitis C-positive kidneys safe for transplant
Improved antivirals could help expand the number of organs available for donation. People who received kidneys from donors infected with hepatitis C did not become ill with the virus, thanks to treatment with newer drugs that can cure the disease, a small study reports. Ten patients not previously infected with hepatitis C took doses of powerful antiviral medications before and after receiving the transplants. None of the patients developed chronic infections, researchers report online March 6 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The finding could help make more kidneys available for transplants. “If this increases access to transplantation, then this is a great benefit,” says Jay Fishman, a transplant infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. As of January 2016, more than 100,000 people in the United States were awaiting transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In many areas, patients can linger on waiting lists for more than five years. In 2014, there were about 17,000 kidney transplants in the country, and nearly 4,800 people died while waiting.
3-8-18 A high fibre diet helps treat diabetes by changing gut bacteria
A diet rich in wholegrains, seeds and vegetables can help treat type 2 diabetes – and it seems to do this by changing the bacteria that live in a person’s gut . A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help treat type 2 diabetes – and it seems to do this by changing the bacteria that live in a person’s gut. Liping Zhao at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and his colleagues compared the effects of two different diets in people with type 2 diabetes. Over 12 weeks, 16 people followed a standard low-fat, low-carb diet, while 27 people ate a lot of high-fibre foods, such as wholegrains, seeds and vegetables. Both groups also took a drug called acarbose, which makes people digest starch more slowly than usual. This allows starch to reach the large intestine, where microbes feed upon it. By the end of the trial, 89 per cent of those on the high-fibre diets showed signs that their bodies were regulating their blood sugar levels more effectively – compared to 50 per cent of the control group. Volunteers who ate more fibre also lost more weight, and had better blood lipid profiles. “Increasing dietary fibres can improve diabetes,” says Zhao. To see how this diet affects people’s microbiomes, the team focussed on strains of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids in our guts. These chemicals are thought to be important for gut health
3-8-18 Peanut allergy breakthrough
A promising new treatment could help ease the lifelong burden of peanut allergy. In people who suffer from this sometimes life-threatening affliction, peanut protein triggers an allergic reaction. The new treatment, developed by Aimmune Therapeutics, is a peanut protein powder that helps children build up a tolerance to the allergen. The California-based firm carried out a clinical trial involving 496 kids, ages 4 to 17, with severe peanut allergies. Under strict supervision, 372 of the children mixed increasing doses of the powder into their food over a period of six months; they then had the maximum dose for an additional six months. The other participants had a placebo. By the end of the study, 67 percent of the kids given the treatment could tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts, compared with only 4 percent of the placebo group. While the powder doesn’t cure peanut allergy, it could help prevent life-threatening reactions. “It’s not going to be for everybody,” allergist Jonathan Tam, from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, tells CBSNews.com. “But for certain families that are very anxious about having accidental exposures, this is a great therapy.” Aimmune plans to seek approval for the treatment from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year.
3-8-18 Alcohol-related dementia
Heavy drinking takes an irreversible, long-term toll on the brain, increasing the risk for all forms of dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 1 million adults diagnosed with dementia from 2008 to 2013. They found that the strongest predictor for the condition was hospitalization for an alcohol-related health issue, particularly among those younger than 65, and that nearly 60 percent of early-onset dementia cases were associated with alcohol-related brain damage. Alcohol is toxic to brain cells and contributes to chronic conditions that reduce blood flow to the brain. The World Health Organization defines heavy drinking as four or more drinks a day for men, three or more for women. “Some people look at their drinking habits and say, ‘Oh, it’s not so bad,’ or, ‘A lot of people drink this much,’” lead author Jürgen Rehm, from the University of Toronto, tells Time.com. “And yes, a lot of people do—but that’s why a lot of people are dying prematurely, and maybe why a lot of people are developing dementia.”
3-8-18 The debate over how long our brains keep making new nerve cells heats up
A new study finds no signs of newborn neurons in adults’ memory-making region. Adult mice and other rodents sprout new nerve cells in memory-related parts of their brains. People, not so much. That’s the surprising conclusion of a series of experiments on human brains of various ages first described at a meeting in November (SN: 12/9/17, p. 10). A more complete description of the finding, published online March 7 in Nature, gives heft to the controversial result, as well as ammo to researchers looking for reasons to be skeptical of the findings. In contrast to earlier prominent studies, Shawn Sorrells of the University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues failed to find newborn nerve cells in the memory-related hippocampi of adult brains. The team looked for these cells in nonliving brain samples in two ways: molecular markers that tag dividing cells and young nerve cells, and telltale shapes of newborn cells. Using these metrics, the researchers saw signs of newborn nerve cells in fetal brains and brains from the first year of life, but they became rarer in older children. And the brains of adults had none.
3-8-18 Could a bedtime pill protect you from morning heart attacks?
Most people are protected from early morning heart attacks by compounds in their blood. Could giving these substances to people with heart disease save lives?. The start of your day is the most dangerous part of it – heart attacks are both more likely and more lethal in the morning. But a type of chemical made by your body from fish oils can protect you from this, and may lead to new drugs to help people with heart disease. Resolvins are a type of substance made by our immune cells from DPA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Jesmond Dalli of Queen Mary University of London and his colleagues have discovered that the level of resolvins in our blood peaks at around 7 am. However, when they examined the blood of 16 people with heart disease, they found that they had only around a third as much resolvin in their blood in the morning as people without heart disease. The team then tested these chemicals in the lab, finding that they suppress inflammation of monocytes and neutrophils, two types of immune cell. “This reduces their ability to form tiny clots,” says Dalli. Such clots are a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, he says, and they contribute to atherosclerosis – the building up of plaques in arteries. When the team gave resolvins to mice that had been fed a high-fat diet, they produced half as many tiny clots – known as aggregates – and lowered fatty damage to the aorta by 20 per cent.
3-8-18 Deep sea discovery suggests world’s oldest fossils misunderstood
Stromatolites represent some of the oldest fossils on Earth but the assumption that they formed in sun-drenched seas has now been challenged. We might need to rethink what we know about the oldest fossils ever found. Some of the best evidence for early life is provided by structures called stromatolites. Many geologists assume these stromatolites were made by microbes living in shallow, sun-drenched water. This means that life, if it emerged on the deep seafloor as some scientists believe, spread to shallow regions rapidly. A new discovery questions that conclusion. It is a stromatolite that formed recently in the deep, dark water at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. “I think this is unique,” says Russell Shapiro at California State University–Chico. Stromatolites are rock-like structures made up of many thin layers. They were formed by microorganisms, some of which lived in “mats” to which sediments became attached. Similar structures still form in a few places today – including Australia’s Shark Bay. These modern stromatolites form in shallow seas and lakes that are flooded by sunlight. As a result, researchers long assumed that stromatolites are always created by photosynthetic microbes that harness energy from sunlight to make food. However, since the 1990s a few researchers have suggested that microbes living on the dark ocean floor – which do not use sunlight – might also be able to generate stromatolites. We now know they can. In 2007 an expedition visited the Arabian Sea, just off the coast of Pakistan. Researchers collected what looked like a 40-centimetre-tall stromatolite from 731 metres down, in dark water containing very little oxygen. The scientists put it into a CT scanner and confirmed that it had the finely-layered internal structure of a stromatolite.
3-7-18 23andMe’s breast cancer test may create false sense of security
Genomics firm 23andMe is the first to receive approval for direct-to-consumer cancer gene tests in the US, but will recipients misunderstand the results?. Women can now buy a test telling them if they carry variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that raise their risk of breast cancer. That sounds like a welcome advance in medical technology. But the particular variants identified are mostly confined to Ashkenazi Jewish women and are very rare in the general population. If women buying the new test don’t understand that, there is a risk they could be lulled into a false sense of security if they test negative. The test is being sold by 23andMe, a Californian company that has pioneered personal DNA analysis. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the test’s sale yesterday, and if you have recently submitted your DNA to 23andMe, the results should be available online soon to customers who specifically request them. But should you look at them? There are more than 1000 known mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but the new test only detects three. They are carried by 1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi ancestry, compared with 1 in 400 in the general population, and are thought to pose a high risk for carriers, giving them a 45 to 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and a 39 to 46 per cent risk of developing ovarian cancer. In the general population, however, doctors regularly test women for other well-established common variants of BRCA1 and BRCA2. Around 70 per cent of carriers will go on to develop breast cancer by the age of 80. The 23andMe test will tell you nothing about these variants.
3-7-18 Very creative people have a special kind of brain activity
IF YOU need to produce your best creative work, try boosting your alpha brainwaves. Joel Lopata at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues have found that people with more synchronised alpha waves are more creative and produce work of higher quality. The team asked 22 pianists to listen to, play back or improvise jazz melodies. As they did so, the researchers monitored electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that orchestrates our thoughts. When groups of neurons send signals at the same time, the result is a wave of electrical activity that EEG caps can pick up. Certain brainwave types have been linked with mental states – delta waves are detectable during deep sleep, for instance, whereas beta waves signify that someone is analysing something critically. Alpha brainwaves, with a frequency of 7 to 14 hertz or so, have been linked with coming up with creative ideas, such as answering questions like “name as many original uses for a mop as you can”. When the researchers analysed the pianists’ brainwaves, they found the alpha waves became more in sync – more neurons were firing at the same time – the more creative someone was at the time. However, they only saw this in people who had formal training in improvisation. Among these pianists, alpha waves became more synchronised when they played back music they had previously heard, and even more so when they were improvising their own melodies. When expert musicians listened to and rated them, the improvisations that were associated with the highest alpha-wave synchronisation got the best scores (Neuropsychologia, doi.org/f97w8t).
3-7-18 People with Tourette’s may find it easier to pick up new skills
People with Tourette’s syndrome are better at learning tasks unconsciously – an ability that may make it easier for them to learn a second language or to drive. People with Tourette’s syndrome seem to have enhanced memory that could make them better at learning tasks unconsciously, such as speaking a second language or driving a car. Procedural memory helps us do things without conscious thought. An experiment in which children played a computer game suggests that children with Tourette’s may be much better at learning in this way. “This highlights the facts that conditions like this can be associated not only with disadvantages, but also potential advantages,” says Dezso Nemeth at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. People with Tourette’s syndrome make involuntary sounds and movements called tics. A cluster of neurons deep in the centre of the brain, called the basal ganglia, seems to be involved in the condition, and is also known to be important for procedural memory. To see if the two may be linked, Nemeth and his colleagues asked 42 children, aged between 8 and 15, to play a computer game that tested their procedural memory. Half the children had Tourette’s. The team found that the children with Tourette’s improved at the task 30 to 40 per cent quicker than those without the condition. “It’s the first time that this kind of memory has been found to be enhanced in any neurological condition,” says Nemeth.
3-7-18 I exposed how online profiling leaves us open to mass persuasion
David Stillwell revealed how social media lets companies nail your personality as well as a spouse could, leaving you ripe for exploitation – but he sees the upside. DAVID STILLWELL fidgets with his empty takeaway cup as we talk. Sitting in this quiet cafeteria at the University of Cambridge, the ongoing firestorm of US politics feels a million miles away. But with Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 US presidential election, the fire found its way to him, thrusting the young researcher into the spotlight. “It’s uncomfortable,” he says, uncomfortably. “Plenty of investigative journalists have wanted to have off-the-record conversations about what companies are doing and whether we’ve helped them.” The conversations he is referring to concern what some consider a form of pervasive mind control. Stillwell played a key role in exposing ways that firms and governments can exploit our online data, mining it to create individual psychological profiles they can use to fine-tune adverts and political messages for maximum impact, ushering in an era of unprecedented digital persuasion of the masses. It started in summer 2007. On a whim – having just finished a psychology degree at the University of Nottingham, UK – Stillwell made a Facebook app called myPersonality. It let people take a test that describes personality types according to the “Big Five” traits, which include degrees of agreeableness, conscientiousness and extroversion.
3-7-18 The real reason people talk over you, and what to do about it
Getting interrupted is the worst, but knowing why people butt in may leave you more forgiving of the big mouth who did, and ready to stop it happening again. IT HAS happened to all of us. You’re in the middle of an important point, or reaching the climax of a humorous anecdote, and someone butts right in. You may jump back in to finish the story, indignantly stammer a few more words or quietly fume while the interrupter takes the floor, but the moment has passed: your eloquent point is lost, your story garbled. Media reports tell us that men often interrupt and “mansplain” things to women – last month, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau got unflattering attention for doing so – and stereotypes would have us believe that people from some countries are more likely to jump in than those from others. But take a closer look at how interruptions play out and things aren’t always what they seem. Figure out why and how people interrupt and you might find yourself more forgiving of the big mouth who stole your moment or better placed to avoid it happening again. Let’s start with the oft-cited finding that men are much quicker to interrupt and talk over women than the other way round. Media reports aside, the original research backing up this idea comes from the 1970s. It showed that, in covertly recorded conversations between men and women in the US, the men cut in 46 out of 48 times. And a 2014 study found that men and women both interrupted women more than they did men. But psychologist Ann Weatherall at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand says the early studies counted all overlapping speech, skewing the results. “Sometimes people overlap and it’s not interruptive at all,” she says. It is also hard to know whether men interrupt because of their gender or their status, she says, with men more often holding positions of power.
3-7-18 The global treatment plan helping to control the HIV epidemic
At the turn of the century, the best HIV therapies were available only in developed countries. Now, the increasingly global availability of powerful new treatments is helping to bring the HIV epidemic to heel. The impact of HIV in Africa in the 1990s and 2000s was profound. “It was a horrendous time,” says Kenly Sikwese, who has lived in Zambia for most of his life. One report found that, in 1999 alone, 5.4 million people were infected and 2.8 million died. “I lost two of my own brothers to HIV, and I was one of the lucky ones – there were families of 10 that only had two members left,” says Sikwese, who coordinates an HIV treatment advocate network called AfroCAB, which campaigns for the speedy development and approval of life-saving treatments. “It was a time of no hope; if you had HIV, all you could do was wait to die.” The rapid spread of the virus, combined with a lack of access to treatments, was especially felt by African nations. “Zambia became a country of funerals,” says Sikwese. Since then, things have changed thanks to a huge surge of financial support from foreign governments and smart licensing deals by pharmaceutical companies. Much of the early funding was made available via the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – an initiative launched by George W. Bush, US president at the time. This programme released $15 million to fund HIV prevention, care and treatment in developing countries between 2004 and 2008. Together with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, these organisations are still the mainstay for global HIV funding. “Global AIDS-related deaths peaked at 1.9 million in 2005 but had halved by 2016”
3-7-18 Dark DNA: The missing matter at the heart of nature
The discovery that some animals thrive despite hugely mutated DNA hidden in their genome is forcing us to rethink some basics of evolution. THE fat sand rat is a strange creature. It lives in burrows, eats around 80 per cent of its body mass in leaves each day and doesn’t drink water. But the really odd thing about this gerbil is that some of its DNA appears to be missing. No doubt you have heard of dark matter, which is thought to make up over a quarter of the universe. We know it’s there; we just haven’t been able to detect it. Well, something similar is afoot in the genome. My colleagues and I have dubbed this elusive genetic matter “dark DNA”. And our investigations into the sand rat are starting to reveal its nature. The discovery of dark DNA is so recent that we are still trying to work out how widespread it is and whether it benefits those species that possess it. However, its very existence raises some fundamental questions about genetics and evolution. We may need to look again at how adaptation occurs at the molecular level. Controversially, dark DNA might even be a driving force of evolution. The sand rat (Psammomys obesus) is a desert species native to North Africa and the Middle East, but put it in a lab and something strange happens. When fed a “normal” diet – the standard fare for laboratory rodents – sand rats tend to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes. This was discovered in the 1960s, and has made sand rats the focus of study for biologists interested in understanding nutrition-induced diabetes in humans. Yet, in all that time, the mystery of why these gerbils are so susceptible to the disease has remained unsolved.
3-7-18 This baby bird fossil gives a rare look at ancient avian development
The lack of complete breastbone suggests diversity in how some early birds developed. This baby bird had barely hatched before it died 127 million years ago — and its lack of fully developed bony breastbone, or sternum, suggests it couldn’t yet fly. The tiny fossil, just a few centimeters long, is giving paleontologists a rare window into the early development of a group of extinct birds called Enantiornithes, researchers report March 5 in Nature Communications. Previous studies of juvenile Enantiornithes have shown that the sternums of these birds ossified in a pattern different from modern and other ancient birds. The sternum’s ossification — a process in which the cartilage is replaced by bone — is a prerequisite to withstand the stresses of flight. But which parts of the sternum fuse first varies widely among modern birds. Those patterns are reflected in modern birds’ life histories, such as how soon birds can fly and how long they rely on their parents after hatching.
3-7-18 Cancer algorithm uses game theory to double survival time
Using algorithms to monitor cancer evolution and apply game theory to their treatment has doubled the survival time of men with advanced prostate cancer. APPROACHING cancer treatment as a game has doubled the survival time of men with advanced prostate cancer. This achievement could mark the start of using game theory to target a range of cancers more cleverly. “This approach is elegant and exciting, and shows real promise to delay treatment failure,” says Charles Swanton at the Francis Crick Institute in London. People with cancer aren’t usually killed by their initial tumour, but by the rapidly evolving secondary tumours that occur once the disease has spread. To work out how each case of cancer is evolving, Robert Gatenby and his colleagues at the Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Florida created an algorithm. Built using clinical data, it also suggests the best treatment regime to maximise a person’s survival. This enables the team to use game theory to keep the upper hand over cancer. In this “game”, the oncologists are predators, and the cancer cells are prey. The oncologists’ objective is to kill the prey, or to at least keep it in check. But conventional cancer treatment shifts this balance. By giving a patient repeated strong doses of a cancer drug, the cells are pushed to evolve resistance. When this occurs, the oncologists stop leading the game and instead have to keep up with an evolving, stronger cancer. By using the algorithm to deploy drugs more subtly, and closely monitoring what the cancer does in response, Gatenby says oncologists can stay ahead.
3-7-18 Humans don’t get enough sleep. Just ask other primates.
People devote more time to learning, at the expense of shut-eye, researchers propose People have evolved to sleep much less than chimps, baboons or any other primate studied so far. A large comparison of primate sleep patterns finds that most species get somewhere between nine and 15 hours of shut-eye daily, while humans average just seven. An analysis of several lifestyle and biological factors, however, predicts people should get 9.55 hours, researchers report online February 14 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Most other primates in the study typically sleep as much as the scientists’ statistical models predict they should. Two long-standing features of human life have contributed to unusually short sleep times, argue evolutionary anthropologists Charles Nunn of Duke University and David Samson of the University of Toronto Mississauga. First, when humans’ ancestors descended from the trees to sleep on the ground, individuals probably had to spend more time awake to guard against predator attacks. Second, humans have faced intense pressure to learn and teach new skills and to make social connections at the expense of sleep. As sleep declined, rapid-eye movement, or REM — sleep linked to learning and memory (SN: 6/11/16, p. 15) — came to play an outsize role in human slumber, the researchers propose. Non-REM sleep accounts for an unexpectedly small share of human sleep, although it may also aid memory (SN: 7/12/14, p. 8), the scientists contend.
3-6-18 Alzheimer's researchers win brain prize
Four dementia scientists have shared this year's 1m Euro brain prize for pivotal work that has changed our understanding of Alzheimer's disease. Profs John Hardy, Bart De Strooper, Michel Goedert, based in the UK, and Prof Christian Haass, from Germany, unpicked key protein changes that lead to this most common type of dementia. On getting the award, Prof Hardy said he hoped new treatments could be found. He is donating some of his prize money to care for Alzheimer's patients. Much of the drug discovery research that's done today builds on their pioneering work, looking for ways to stop the build-up of damaging proteins, such as amyloid and tau. Alzheimer's and other dementias affect 50 million people around the world, and none of the treatments currently available can stop the disease. Prof Hardy's work includes finding rare, faulty genes linked to Alzheimer's disease. These genetic errors implicated a build-up of amyloid as the event that kick-starts damage to nerve cells in Alzheimer's. This idea, known as the amyloid cascade hypothesis, has been central to Alzheimer's research for nearly 30 years. Together with Prof Haass, who is from the University of Munich, Prof Hardy, who's now at University College London, then discovered how amyloid production changes in people with rare inherited forms of Alzheimer's dementia. (Webmaster's comment: Don't expect America to follow suit. American Healthcare can make billions milking Alzheimer patients of their money.)
3-6-18 These petunias launch seeds that spin 1,660 times a second
High-speed cameras capture how fastest-known rotation helps plants fling seeds far. Nature may have a few things to teach tennis players about backspin. The hairyflower wild petunia (Ruellia ciliatiflora) shoots seeds that spin up to 1,660 times per second, which helps them fly farther, researchers report March 7 in Journal of the Royal Society Interface. These seeds have the fastest known rotations of any plant or animal, the authors say. Plants that disperse seeds a greater distance are likely to be more successful in reproducing and spreading. Glue that holds the flower’s podlike fruit together breaks down on contact with water, allowing the fruit to split explosively, launching millimeter-sized seeds. Little hooks inside the pod help fling these flattened discs at speeds of around 10 meters per second. Using high-speed cameras that record 20,000 frames per second, the researchers analyzed the seeds’ flight. “Our first thought was: ‘Why doesn’t this throw like a Frisbee?’” says Dwight Whitaker, an applied physicist at Pomona College, in Claremont, Calif. Instead of spinning horizontally, most seeds spin counterclockwise vertically, like a bicycle wheel in reverse.
3-6-18 Nice prize for Alzheimer’s work, shame about the lack of a cure
The prestigious annual Brain prize has gone to work on Alzheimer's disease. That's fine, but the failure to find new treatments is worrying. Alzheimer’s disease is back in the headlines with the announcement that the annual €1 million Brain prize has gone to four neuroscientists researching the genetic and molecular basis of the illness. This is recognition of great basic science. John Hardy at University College London (UCL) was the first to propose that Alzheimer’s disease was initiated by the build-up of beta amyloid, a protein that can coagulate into plaques that kill brain cells. Michel Goedert at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, was instrumental in the discovery of the importance of tau protein, which also forms damaging plaques. Their work, along with that of Christian Haass at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, and Bart de Strooper at UCL, has added to our knowledge about the underlying mechanisms of dementia. The prize, awarded by the Lundbeck Foundation in Copenhagen, Denmark, will undoubtedly raise hopes that a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is within our grasp. However, translating such research, much of it in animals, into drugs that work in humans remains as frustratingly out of reach as ever. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK alone, set to rise to over a million by 2025 and over 2 million by 2051. Worldwide, someone develops dementia every 3 seconds. For these people and their families desperate for a breakthrough, it has been a long roller coaster of raised hopes and crushing disappointments.
3-5-18 Virtual reality lets doctors guide you through your own guts
People at Boston Children’s Hospital are taking tours of their own digestive tracts. Their doctor can point out anomalies and what they’ll do to fix them. A trip of a lifetime. Boston Children’s Hospital are testing virtual reality that can give people a 3D tour of their own digestive tract. If you have bowel or colon disease, understanding exactly what’s wrong and how it will be fixed can be hard. But doctors using the new system, called HealthVoyager GI, will be able to show you directly. After performing procedures that inspect part of the digestive tract, such as a colonoscopy, the recordings are used to recreate a true-to-life version of the person’s insides. Using a VR headset, people can then walk around their internal tubes guided by their doctor. Doctors can point out where things have gone awry and potential treatments. “We hypothesise that the more children and their families can visualize and understand their disease, the more likely they may be to communicate when they have a particular symptom and adhere to their therapies,” says Michael Docktor, MD, at Boston Children’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator. The system is currently being trialed as part of a clinical study to establish whether it is helpful to people and their families. “We are beginning to see VR and AR increasingly used in healthcare from optimising surgery during planning to preparing patients, both paediatric and adult, for the hospital environment,” says Manish Chand, Senior Lecturer in Surgery and Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, University College London.
3-5-18 Lassa fever: The killer disease with no vaccine
Since the beginning of the year, Nigeria has been gripped by an outbreak of a deadly disease. Lassa fever is one of a number of illnesses which can cause dangerous epidemics, but for which no vaccine currently exists. Lassa fever is not a new disease, but the current outbreak is unprecedented, spreading faster and further than ever before. Health workers are overstretched, and a number have themselves become infected and died. The potentially fatal disease is a so-called "viral haemorrhagic fever", which can affect many organs, and damage the body's blood vessels. But it is difficult to treat. Most people who catch Lassa will have only mild symptoms such as fever, headache and general weakness. They may have none at all. However, in severe cases, it can mimic another deadly haemorrhagic fever, Ebola, causing bleeding through the nose, mouth and other parts of the body. Lassa fever normally has a fatality rate of about one per cent. But in the Nigerian outbreak it is thought to be more than 20% among confirmed and probable cases, according to the country's Centre for Disease Control. About 90 people are thought to have died so far, but the true number may be much higher, because Lassa is so hard to diagnose. Women who contract the disease late in pregnancy face an 80% chance of losing their child, or dying themselves. In the early stages it's almost impossible to distinguish from other common diseases like malaria and dengue.
3-5-18 Baby bird fossil is 'rarest of the rare'
Scientists have unveiled one of the smallest bird fossils ever discovered. The chick lived 127 million years ago and belonged to a group of primitive birds that shared the planet with the dinosaurs. Fossils of birds from this time period are rare, with baby fossils seen as "the rarest of the rare". Scientists say the discovery gives a peek into the lives of the ancient, long-extinct birds that lived between 250 and 66 million years ago. The bird belonged to the enantiornithine family, most of which had teeth and clawed fingers on each wing, but otherwise looked much like modern birds. "It's amazing to realise that many of the features we see among living birds had already been developed more than 100 million years ago," said Luis Chiappe, from the LA Museum of Natural History. From nose to tail the hatchling was a bit shorter than the little finger of a human hand, and it weighed just 10 grams. The bird died not long after leaving the egg, giving a window into a critical stage of development.
3-5-18 Fossil shows a mother caring for her young 520 million years ago
Rare remains show a primitive shrimp-like creature apparently caring for four juveniles – the oldest example of parental care in the fossil record. A 520-million-year-old fossil shows an ancient shrimp-like creature caring for its four offspring. It is the oldest ever example of a parent actively looking after its young after they hatch. The tiny critter, Fuxianhuia protensa, is an arthropod, making it a possible ancestor of modern insects, spiders and woodlice. There is little evidence of extended parental care in the fossil record. One of the few examples is a 160-million-year-old reptile that died alongside its six children. We have more evidence of brood care – animals protecting their eggs. This behaviour has been reported in dinosaurs and in a 508-million-year-old crustacean-like creature that carried eggs between her body and shell. There are also fossils dating from 320 million years ago of fish carrying embryos inside their body. But brood care requires less commitment than parenting. Javier Ortega-Hernández at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analysed specimens from the Chengjiang fossil site in Yunnan province, China – a trove of marine fossils from the early Cambrian period. (Webmaster's comment: It seems caring for one's young has been built into us by 500 million years of evolution.)
3-2-18 We’ve evolved to sleep less and that may be causing Alzheimer’s
Humans sleep less than any other primate and spend less time in deep, non-REM sleep – which may cause a high risk of Alzheimer’s. The 7 hours of sleep we typically get every night often doesn’t feel like enough. Compared with our fellow primates, which spend around 12 hours of each day slumbering, humans barely get any shut-eye. It seems we have evolved to limit how long we sleep, and that may simply be because we have more important things to do with our time, says Charles Nunn at Duke University in North Carolina. However, the trade-off might have left us more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. Nunn and his colleague David Samson collected data on how long 29 other primate species sleep, including how much time they spend in the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep associated with vivid dreams and in deep, non-REM sleep. The pair also included various factors that might influence an animal’s sleep, such as diet, brain size and whether it lives in groups. They used all this to build a model that predicts how much sleep a given primate species should get, based on the others. Their model predicted that humans should get around 9.5 hours of sleep every night. Of this, 8.4 hours would be in non-REM sleep and 1.3 hours in REM sleep – if we were like other primates.
3-2-18 DNA sheds light on settlement of Pacific
A study of ancient DNA has shed light on the epic journeys that led to the settlement of the Pacific by humans. The region was one of the last on Earth to be permanently settled by humans who used canoes to traverse hundreds of miles of open ocean. Two different studies tracked changes over time in the genetic make-up of people inhabiting Vanuatu - regarded as a gateway to the rest of the Pacific. The work appears in Nature Ecology & Evolution and Current Biology. Prof David Reich, from Harvard Medical School, said the region had a "tremendous" range of human diversity, adding that Vanuatu itself had an "extraordinary diversity of languages" in a relatively small area. The number of languages spoken in the tiny island state is thought to number more than 130, though several are endangered with just a small number of speakers. Prof Reich, who is lead author of the study in Current Biology, added that Vanuatu was a "gateway to the remote Pacific islands... through that region of Vanuatu and neighbouring islands, people spread all over the Pacific". The first people to arrive in the islands belonged to the Lapita culture, who expanded out of Taiwan between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, reaching Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago. "They were really talented seafaring people," said Dr Cosimo Posth, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. Dr Posth was co-author of the study in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
3-2-18 Diabetes is actually five separate diseases, research suggests
Scientists say diabetes is five separate diseases, and treatment could be tailored to each form. Diabetes - or uncontrolled blood sugar levels - is normally split into type 1 and type 2. But researchers in Sweden and Finland think the more complicated picture they have uncovered will usher in an era of personalised medicine for diabetes. Experts said the study was a herald of the future of diabetes care but changes to treatment would not be immediate. Diabetes affects about one in 11 adults worldwide and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and limb amputation. Type 1 diabetes is a disease of the immune system, which affects around 10% of people with the condition in the UK. It errantly attacks the body's insulin factories (beta-cells) so there is not enough of the hormone to control blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is largely seen as a disease of poor lifestyle as body fat can affect the way the insulin works. The study, by Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, looked at 14,775 patients including a detailed analysis of their blood. The results, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed the patients could be separated into five distinct clusters.
3-1-18 There may be five kinds of diabetes, not just types 1 and 2
Researchers propose splitting diabetes into five subtypes instead of the current type 1 and type 2 diagnoses. It may help, but we need to know much more. Most people who know about diabetes think there are two kinds: type 1, which you are born with, and type 2, which you get later in life from eating too much. This isn’t quite right, since the two types can occur at different life stages and for a number of reasons, but the broad distinction is well established in the public’s mind. Now some doctors want to change all that and break the disease down into five subtypes, each with its own set of risk factors, outcomes and treatments. This could be great news for people with diabetes, leading to more-tailored care. But the story is far from straightforward and it could be decades before we all start reaping the benefits of improved diagnosis. The new claim was made by researchers based in Sweden and Finland, who assessed almost 15,000 people with diabetes in those countries. They found that these people fell into one of five categories based on their blood sugar, their insulin production and sensitivity, and their body mass index and age. The subgroups also vary genetically. The researchers say that two of the subtypes are mild, and can be largely treated with lifestyle changes and low doses of a drug called metformin. People with the three more severe forms are more likely to develop eye and kidney disease – and it is these individuals that doctors should prioritise.
3-1-18 Teens skipping HPV vaccine
Most American teenagers aren’t getting the HPV vaccine, even though it can protect them from several forms of cancer, reports NPR.org. Human papillomavirus is a group of more than 150 related viruses, some of which can persist in the body and cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, or throat. In order to protect against these diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children receive at least two doses of the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 13. But a seven-year Blue Cross Blue Shield Association analysis of medical claims from more than 1.3 million teens found that only 34 percent of adolescents had received their first dose of the vaccine by their 13th birthday. Further research found that most parents avoid the vaccine because of concerns about side effects, while some believe their preteens are too young to worry about a sexually transmitted virus. The CDC urged parents to have their children inoculated with the vaccine, emphasizing that it triggers a more effective immune response when received at an early age.
3-1-18 A blood test for concussions
The first blood test to help detect concussions in adults has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, reports The New York Times. The Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator measures levels of two proteins that leak into the bloodstream after a blow to the head. The $150 test can be taken any time within 12 hours of the injury; results take only a few hours to come through. The FDA’s approval was based on a Pentagon-funded clinical trial involving nearly 2,000 people, in which the blood test correctly predicted the presence of intracranial lesions 97.5 percent of the time and accurately ruled them out 99.6 percent of the time. Until now, doctors have evaluated suspected brain injuries with a CT scan, an expensive imaging test that reveals brain tissue damage. Those scans, 90 percent of which come back negative, expose patients to a powerful dose of radiation. The FDA believes the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least one-third of patients with suspected brain injuries. Tara Rabin, a spokeswoman for the agency, says the development will “change the testing paradigm for suspected cases of concussion.”
3-1-18 Processed foods and cancer
Eating “ultra-processed” foods—including packaged breads, snacks, baked goods, instant soups, chicken nuggets, and frozen meatballs—could increase your risk for developing cancer, new research suggests. A team of scientists at France’s Université Sorbonne Paris Cité analyzed the dietary records of nearly 105,000 adults. After tracking cancer diagnoses among the group over the course of five years, they found that every 10 percent increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a 12 percent increase in cancer risk. Ultra-processed foods are loaded with sugar and fat, and have fewer vitamins and less fiber than fresh foods. They also contain additives, including nitrates and artificial flavors, colors, emulsifiers, and sweeteners. Certain types of plastic packaging could also contaminate processed foods with potentially harmful chemicals. The study’s authors caution that larger-scale studies are needed, reports BBC.com, but say their findings “suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades.”
3-1-18 Biggest ever family tree shows when cousins stopped having sex
A family tree of 13 million people has been built using data from an ancestry website, and it reveals when and why people started avoiding marrying close relations. Think you’ve got a big family? Check out the world’s biggest family tree, containing 13 million people. The giant family tree is the largest of several built using crowd-sourced data, each of which tells a tale about the history of Western civilisation. Joanna Kaplanis at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, and her colleagues, collected 86 million publicly-available profiles from Geni.com. Users on this crowd-sourcing website create family trees, which are then merged with others when matches occur. After cleaning up the data, the team was able to dispel a long-standing myth. It was thought that people in the west stopped marrying their close relatives in the 19th century, because improved transport meant that people were born further away from their families. But the family tree proved otherwise. “Even though people started to be born further away from their families during the early 19th century, they were still marrying cousins for 50 years,” says Kaplanis. It seems the eventual decrease in inbreeding was more to do with cultural influences. “It just became less socially acceptable.” The new family tree is also shedding light on longevity.
3-1-18 Understanding ‘superagers’
Scientists believe they are finally starting to unravel the secrets of so-called -superagers—senior citizens who live beyond 80 but have the mental sharpness of people decades younger. In one study, at Northwestern University, researchers who examined the brains of 10 superagers found heightened levels of Von Economo neurons, brain cells linked to social processing and awareness. Their brains had up to five times more of these cells than a typical octogenarian’s—more, even, than an average young adult’s, reports TheGuardian.com. The team also found that superagers, who they estimate account for about 5 percent of people 80 or older, are more likely to be extroverts, less likely to be neurotic, and tend to have relatively active and engaged lifestyles. A separate study, at the University of California, Irvine, examined the significance of amyloid, a protein that can lead to plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that some superagers had these deformed proteins in their brains, yet retained their unusually impressive memory skills. “It’s not so long ago that we thought the only trajectory [was] to get old and senile,” says Emily Rogalski, who led the Northwestern study. “We need to push the envelope and see what is possible in older age.”
3-1-18 7,000-year-old Native American burial site found off Florida
Archaeologists have uncovered a Native American burial site dating back 7,000 years off the coast of Florida. The site was found by an amateur diver in 2016 who was looking for shark teeth but stumbled on an ancient jawbone. In a picture sent from the diver, archaeologist Ryan Duggins noticed a worn down molar tooth attached to the jawbone. This suggested it belonged to a prehistoric person. Florida state officials called the find an "unprecedented discovery". Mr Duggins and his team began investigating the site from the "Archaic Period" located 900ft (275m) from shore. The burial grounds are expected to cover about 32,000 sq feet (3,000 sq metres) off the coast of Manasota Key. Underwater, the team found densely packed organic remains, human bones, and sharpened wooden stakes and textile fragments, according to National Geographic. "Seeing a 7,000-year-old site that is so well preserved in the Gulf of Mexico is awe inspiring," Mr Duggins said in a press release from the Florida Department of State. The site is believed to have been preserved in a freshwater pond thousands of years ago when water levels were 30ft (9m) lower, according the a press release. The pond had a bottom covered in peat, which reportedly slowed the process of organic decay and allowed for the preservation of human remains.
3-1-18 Early land plants led to the rise of mud
Mud rocks increased in riverbeds as rootless plants spread around 458 million years ago. Early plants made Earth muddier. Ancient riverbed deposits of mud rock — rocks containing bits of clay and silt smaller than grains of sand — began increasing around 458 million years ago, around the time that rootless plants became common across Earth, researchers say. Anecdotally, geologists have long noted that early sediment deposits became muddier at some point, and suggested a connection with plants (SN: 6/22/74, p. 398). But no one had ever pinpointed when that muddening happened. So geologists William McMahon and Neil Davies, both of the University of Cambridge, decided to look for when amounts of mud rock began increasing in 704 ancient river deposits from 3.5 billion to 300 million years ago. The researchers searched through nearly 1,200 published papers for data on mud rock in river deposits, and collected new field data at 125 ancient river outcrops. At those outcrops, the researchers calculated the percent of mud rock in the overall deposit by measuring the thickness of the muddy layers compared with the thickness of layers containing larger grains such as sand. The resulting fractions showed the median mud content was about 1 percent before around 458 million years ago. At that point, the mud content steadily increased over about the next 100 million years or so to reach a median of about 26 percent in outcrops dated 359 million to 299 million years old, McMahon and Davies report in the March 2 Science.
3-1-18 Very creative people have a special kind of brain activity
A type of brainwave is associated with creativity, and a study of improvising musicians has found that the stronger your alpha waves, the better you play. Need to get creative? A type of brainwave has been linked to creativity, and the more synchronised these are, the higher the quality of your creative output. Joel Lopata at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues found this out by asking 22 pianists to listen to, play back, or improvise jazz melodies. During these tasks, the team monitored the electrical activity in each person’s pre-frontal cortex – a region of the brain that orchestrates our thoughts and goals. When groups of neurons send signals at the same time, this creates a wave of electrical activity that can be picked up using EEG caps. Different types of waves have been associated with different mental states – delta waves are detectable during deep sleep, for instance, whereas beta waves are a sign that someone is analysing something critically. Alpha brainwaves, which have a frequency of around 7 to 14 Hertz, have previously been linked to coming up with creative ideas, such as answering questions like “name as many original uses for a mop”. When the team analysed the brainwaves of the pianists, they found that these waves become more synchronised – more neurons fire at the same time – when a person is being more creative. But they only saw this in those who have had formal improvisation training. Among the formally-trained improvisers, alpha waves became more synchronised when they played back music they had previously heard, and even more synchronised when they were actively being creative and improvising their own melodies.
3-1-18 'Oldest tattoo' found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies
Researchers have discovered the oldest figurative tattoos in the world on two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt. The illustrations are of a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on the upper-arm of a male mummy, and S-shaped motifs on the upper-arm and shoulder of a female. The discovery pushes back evidence for the practice in Africa by 1,000 years. Details of the tattoos have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum's Curator of Physical Anthropology, said that the discovery had "transformed" our understanding of how people lived in this era. "Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium," he told BBC News. The male mummy was found about 100 years ago. Previous CT scans showed that he was between 18 and 21 years old when he died from a stab wound to the back. Dark smudges on his arm were thought to be unimportant until infrared scans revealed that they were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals. One is interpreted to be a wild bull with a long tail and elaborate horns; the other appears to be a Barbary sheep with curving horns and a humped shoulder.
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