May 26, 2019

    Rangeomorphs that lived during the Ediacaran over 500 million years ago grew tall to better disperse their offspring. Image: Wikimedia Commons
    Why size matters - life science news

    Why did life favor the development of big creatures? Researchers have addressed this question by studying fossil records of some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth, the rangeomorphs. These are probably some of the earliest animals to exist, appearing during the Ediacaran over 500 million years ago. They were sessile, had no mouth or organs, and look like two-meter-high fern leaves. Researchers found that it was not food that these organisms were competing for that made them big, as there was plenty about in the oceans where they lived. Rather, the bigger ones seem better possibilities to disperse their offspring. This result shows that the colonization potential may outweigh resource competition during evolution.

    Read the full story: University of Cambridge
    Scientific publication: Nature Ecology and Evolution

    The foot of a greater slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) showing a grooming claw on the second toe and flat nails on all the other toes. Credit: Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace
    How we lost our grooming claw - science news in brief

    Some primates, like lemurs and lorises, have nails plus a grooming claw on one or more toes for removing parasites. Humans, apes, and monkey don’t have these grooming claws. However, tiny fossils from a 56-million-year-old, mouse-sized animal that is the ancestor of all primates, suggest they were present in early primates. Ancient primates had a grooming claw, but it was later lost in evolution. Humans, as well as the more evolved apes, lost theirs probably due to more complex social networks and increased social grooming. We had each other to pick the lice and ticks from our hair, so the grooming claw became less important and was eventually lost.

    Read the full story: University of Berkely
    Scientific publication: Journal of Human Evolution

    Cranial reconstruction and skull of the new gibbon species. Credit: Dr Samuel Turvey and Professor Helen Chatterjee
    Extinct species of gibbon discovered in 2-millennia-old Chinese tomb - science news in short

    An ancient tomb from China revealed an unexpected surprise for zoologists: a new species of gibbon (a small type of monkey). The tomb dates back 2,300 years and it contained the remains of several animals. The gibbon was classified as a new species, that doesn’t exist today and probably went extinct around 300 years ago. The new species was baptized Junzi imperialis. The specimen from the tomb was most likely kept by a pet by a royal Chinese family.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Science

    Children are tolerant and respect other religions, even in a region with a history of religious conflicts
    Children of different faiths are unexpectedly tolerant for other’s religious beliefs - science news in brief

    Gujarat, India was the site of violent religious conflicts between Hindu and Muslims adepts in 2002. A new study looked at approximately 100 Hindu and Muslim children (9 – 15 years old), at two different schools in that region, to understand their position towards other religions. Surprisingly, the study showed that while most children prefer members of their own religion and their own religious rules, they do not think those rules should apply to members of other faiths. Instead, children indicated that members of other faiths should abide by their respective religious customs. The findings also showed that children distinguish between religious rules and universal moral rules, providing hope that tolerant attitudes and respect for other religions could be developed in a region with a history of conflict.

     Read the full story: University of California Berkeley
    Scientific publication: Child Development

    Flatworms are known for their remarkable regenerative capacity
    One cell can regenerate an entire organism - life science news

    Researchers have found a particular stem cell in flatworms that can, on its own, regenerate a complete flatworm. This amazing cell was found using a whole battery of modern techniques used in molecular biology, and turned out to be a specific type of stem cell expressing the protein TSPAN-1 on the cell membrane. This finding has important implications for the study of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and ultimately for human health.

    Read the full story: Stowers Institute for Medical Research
    Scientific publication: Cell

    Hundreds of people in the United Stated consider scorpions more fearful than spiders
    What do you fear more: a spider or a scorpion - science news in brief

    Fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias, despite the fact that generally, spiders pose little danger for humans. It is not clear why so many people have this fear, but many researchers consider it an innate response. How about scorpions? Despite having less reputation as monsters, scorpions are more dangerous and fearing them would be justified. To test which of these two creatures are scarier, scientists asked 800 students from five universities which one they fear most. Surprisingly, the fear of scorpions was higher than the fear of spiders, even in places where scorpions are not found. For the moment it is not clear why this is the case.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: American Entomologist

    Pandoraviruses are the biggest viruses on Earth and make new genes all the time. Image: CNRS/AMU
    Pandoraviruses: giant gene factories . life science news

    The recently discovered pandoraviruses are in many ways surprising. Apart from their big size (they are the size of bacteria), they have an enormous variety of genes. Many of these genes do not have an apparent function, and no two individual viruses have the same. It seems therefore unlikely that pandoraviruses have inherited their genome from a common ancestor, but rather, that they spontaneously make the new genes by themselves. In other words, these viruses are giant gene factories. If this is confirmed by further research, this would add an new chapter to the history of evolution.

    Read the full story: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications

    Chromosomes are not separately stored in the nucleus, but are organized in hubs where gene expression is controled
    How DNA, genes and chromosomes are organized in the nucleus - life science news

    How can a cell find quick access to genes that have to be switched on or off on six feet of DNA that is stored in the cell’s nucleus of only a micrometer in diameter? To answer this question, scientists have developed a new technique that maps out where genes and chromosomes are within the nucleus. It turned out that genes and chromosomes (the larger blocks of DNA with many genes) that should be switched off are localized together in so-called nucleoli, and those that should be switched on in nuclear speckles. These nuclear domains also contain the proteins that control the switching on and off of genes, and RNA’s that will help to build the cell’s proteins. Thus, different chromosomes and the genes they contain group together in hubs to make the regulation of gene expression extremely efficient.

    Read the full story: California Institute of Technology
    Scientific publication: Cell

    Conifer trees in Patagonia show variable responses to climate change
    Trees respond differently to climate change - life science news

    Trees do not respond equally to climate change, even if they are from the same species, a new study found. Researchers came to this conclusion after examining growth rings from conifer trees, Pilgerodendron uviferum, in northern, central and southern Patagonia. They observed divergence in growth after the 1950s of trees growing in the northern and southern regions, when climate changes resulted in altered dry and wet conditions. These results have important consequences for modeling the effects of climate change on tree populations in that it is not possible to base predictions on a single parameter per species to represent an entire species’ growth.

    Read the full story: Portland State University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Biogeography

    Historians scanned tens of thousands of newspaper pages from a small region in Europe in order to understand how it changes around the First World War
    Lost corner of Austrian Empire rediscovered with the help of artificial intelligence - science news in brief

    Have you heard of the Princely County of Gorizia and Gradisca? Probably not! It was a small part of the Austrian empire, now a border region divided between Italy and Slovenia. Not much is known about the recent history of this place, so in order to study it, scientists investigated 47,000 pages of newspapers published here between 1873 and 1914. To do such an enormous job they employed artificial intelligence to automatically scan the pages and extract the individual stories of thousands of people. The study provides insights into the collective trends of the population just before the First World War, during the final years of the Empire.

    Read the full story: University of Bristol
    Scientific publication: Historical Methods

    Bad news travels fast, but in the process, they become inaccurate and more negative
    Bad news are distorted by crowds becoming more negative, inaccurate and hysterical - science news in brief

    A research study investigated for the first time the way negative news are amplified and transmitted by large groups of people. The study shows that bad news (for example, about terrorism, disaster, disease outbreaks) becomes increasingly negative, inaccurate and hysterical when passed from person to person. “The more people share information, the more negative it becomes, the further it gets from the facts, and the more resistant it becomes to correction”, said Professor Thomas Hills who led the study. The research is important for understanding the proliferation and impact of news stories, fake news, and the diffusion of messages on social media.

    Read the full story: University of Warwick
    Scientific publication: Risk Analysis

    A surprising finding: bees understand the concept of zero. Until now it was thought that this was reserved exclusively to humans and some animals with large sophisticated brains. But experiments with bees, in which they were trained to choose images with the lowest number of elements, proved that even insects with their tiny brains can learn to discriminate between one and zero. Indeed, if a tiny brain is sufficient to learn the difficult concept of zero – even the Romans did not have a symbol for it! – it might be possible to use relatively simple systems to teach artificial intelligence new things, researchers suggest.

    Read the full story: RMIT University
    Scientific publication: Science

    A plant's vascular system is visible in leafs as veins
    This is how a plant cell knows it should become a phloem cell - life science news

    Botanists have discovered how a plant cell develops into a phloem cell, a cell that is part of the plant’s vascular system that supplies other plant cells with sugars. In an initial phase, the molecule auxin accumulates in the cell. At the same time, the regulator protein BRX inhibits the activity of another regulator, PAX, that transports auxin out of the cell. As auxin levels rise, BRX is inactivated and PAX is therefore disinhibited, causing auxin levels to fall. This will result in BRX activity and auxin levels rise again, and the process repeats itself. This cyclic flux of auxin seems to be important for the differentiation into phloem cells.

    Read the full story: Technical University of Munich
    Scientific publication: Nature

    Swimming in a group allows fish to move while consuming less energy
    Fish swim in schools to save energy - science news in short

    Scientists have tried to understand for quite a while now if the schooling behavior of fish enables them to gain an energetic advantage when swimming in flowing waters. A new study shows that indeed, this is the case. Researchers used a highly detailed simulation of the interactions between the swimming fish and the water moving around them. The study determined that the fish swam most energetically when they swam not one after the other, as previously suggested, but at an offset from the swimming direction of the leader. The results have applications for improving energy-efficient swimming for underwater drones or similar devices.

    The fish swimming in the back harnessed the vortices generated by the leader. They intercept them with their heads, splitting the vortex into fragments which are then guided down their bodies. The progress of these vortices supplies the fish with thrust without robbing the leader of energy. Credit: ETH Zurich

    Read the full story: ETH Zurich
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

    Cats and dogs prefer different types of nutrients in their food
    Cats and dogs prefer different types of nutrients in their food - science news in brief

    The first factor in choosing their food, for cats and dogs, is the palatability - how good it tastes. However, when food with similar palatability, but different micronutrients composition is offered the cats and the dogs choose different things, according to a new research study. Dogs gladly go for the food rich in fats. Cats prefer aliments that have a high content of carbohydrates. This reflects the physiological needs of the two different species. The choices are dictated by the animal’s metabolism and show that contrary to popular belief, cats do not necessarily prefer a diet rich in proteins.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Experimental Biology

    The bright colors of the poison dart frogs and their arrangement make an effective camouflage when viewed from far away
    Poison dart frog’s bright colors also work as camouflage - science news in brief

    Poison dart frogs produce deadly toxins that are harmful to many animals and humans. Their skin has a specific pattern of bright colors which act as a warning signal for predators. However, this defense strategy is not always effective, as some predators have developed tolerance to the frogs’ toxins. Interestingly, according to a new study, the colors also work as camouflage, thus providing additional protection for the frogs. Although quite visible from close-by, when viewed from far away, the colors blend easily into the environment, making the frog almost invisible.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    Simple physics and techniques were used to place very heavy stone hats on the statues from Easter Island. Credit: Sean Hixon / Penn State
    How did they put 13-ton stone hats on the Easter Island statues - science news in brief

    The giant statues from the Easter Island hold many secrets, but one of them might have been solved by a new study. Scientists have been trying to understand how did the ancient builders managed to position huge stone hats, sometimes weighing 13 tonnes, on the heads of the statues. It turns out that the hats were rolled up on large ramps to the top of a standing statue using a technique called parbuckling. The study estimates that using this simple approach, a team of only 15 workers could have performed the delicate operation. After this step, the hats were sculptured into their final form, then levered and pivoted into the final position. 

    Read the full story: Pennsylvania State University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Archaeological Science

    We owe our highly developed cognitive capacity to a genetic mutation that occurred millions of years ago in an ancient ape
    Three new genes discovered that control brain size and are unique to humans - life science news

    Scientists have found three genes that occur only in humans and are important for brain size. These genes are the result of partial duplication of the original gene, found throughout the animal kingdom, in an ancient ape that was a common ancestor of modern apes and humans. While this gene duplication event did not result in functional genes in the apes, they are active in human brains, and influence brain size. The genes are associated with microcephaly (small head and brain) and autism when deleted from the genome, and with macrocephaly (big head and brain) and schizophrenia when an extra copy of the gene is present. Thus, a genetic mutation that occurred a few million years ago is at the basis of our relative large brain size, an important and functional characteristic of our species.

    Read the full story: University of California - Santa Cruz
    Scientific publication: Cell

    Cells live longer with increased levels of autophagy, the process of disposing waste and toxic products
    Cells cleaning themselves up live longer - cell biology science news

    The lifespan of cells, the building blocks of our body, increases if the process cells use to dispose of unwanted or toxic substances, is upregulated, a new study shows. Increased life expectancy of these cells is 10% longer, and the risk of developing age-related cancers, cardiovascular diseases, or kidney diseases drops. Scientists have unraveled the molecular mechanism underlying this cellular cleaning process, and believe they can target this process pharmacologically to improve human health and healthy aging.

    Read the full story: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
    Scientific publication: Nature

    RNA offers new possibilities for drug development
    Targeting RNA for new treatment options of disease - life science news

    Many diseases are related to genetic information stored on chromosomes, and scientists try to develop gene editing technologies to treat or even cure these diseases. A new study addresses the messenger molecules of the DNA on the chromosomes, which is the RNA. These are smaller molecules that can now be targeted by newly developed drugs. As a proof of principle, scientists managed to destroy the RNA of a gene that causes a form of breast cancer that is difficult to treat, so that the cell’s own anti-cancer defense mechanism could effectively kill the cancerous cells. The study therefore describes an important step in the process of a new generation of medication.

    Read the full story: Scripps Research Institute
    Scientific publication: Journal of the American Chemical Society

    Olive oil was produced in Italy more than 4000 years ago, according to the latest archeological and chemical research
    Olive oil existed in Italy 700 years sooner than previous estimates - science news in brief

    Olive oil is a mark of Italian cuisine for a very long time. The oldest evidence for the use of olive oil dates from the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. But now, scientist have discovered proof for the existence of olive oil much earlier. A group of archeologists performed chemical analyzes of fragments of ceramics from Castelluccio in Sicily and found out that they came from vessels in which olive oil was stored. This storage container is very old, around the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE (Early Bronze Age). “The results obtained with the three samples from Castelluccio become the first chemical evidence of the oldest olive oil in Italian prehistory, pushing back the hands of the clock for the systematic olive oil production by at least 700 years,” said Davide Tanasi, one of the researchers.

    Read the full story: University of South Florida
    Scientific publication: Analytical Methods

    Y-chromosome variability dramatically reduced 7000 years ago
    Biological mystery solved of why male chromosome variability collapsed 7000 years ago - genetics science news

    Researchers may have found an explanation for the sudden collapse in the male Y-chromosome 7000 years ago. On the basis of computer simulations of different scenarios, they first conclude that the lack of exchange of men, but not women, between clans has limited the spread of Y-chromosomes. Second, many men were killed in armed conflicts between clans, reducing masculine genetic variability even further. These scenarios solves a mystery for which biologists struggled to find a plausible explanation for a long time.

    Read the full story: Stanford University
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications

    Cavefish live in Mexican caves and lose eye tissue during development
    How cave fish lose their eyes - life science news

    Cavefish are born with eyes, but lose them during the first days of development. Now, researchers have found that this is caused by epigenetic silencing of eye-related genes, meaning that these genes are chemically marked for switch off. Interestingly, many of these genes have been linked to human eye disorders, suggesting that these genes may be regulated in similar ways in cave fish and humans. In a broader picture, the researchers found small genetic changes that alter epigenetic regulation, which leads to dramatic changes in the expression of large sets of genes and subsequent physiological changes.

    Read the full story: NIH – Eucine Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
    Scientific publication: Nature Ecology & Evolution

    In tropical areas zombie ants bite leaves, but in temperate regions they bite twigs or bark
    How zombie ants adapted due to climate change - science news in short

    Zombie ants are species of carpenter ants that have been infected with a fungus. In order to spread, the fungus manipulates the ants to climb on a tree where they remain fixed after biting a leaf or a branch. Fossil zombie ants found in Germany show that in the distant past they used to bite the leaves in regions that were, at that time, evergreen. They do the same now, in tropical regions where trees do not loose leaves. However, the zombie ants that live in temperate climates have evolved to bite twigs or bark, instead of leaves. This behavior allows them to stay fixed longer and spread the fungus more efficiently.

    Read the full story: EurekaAlert
    Scientific publication: Evolution

    Dwarf mongooses from Africa help each other and return the favor when the opportunity arises
    Mongooses remember helping friends and reward them later - science news in brief

    Cooperation and market trade are not exclusively human features. A new study shows that dwarf mongooses have the ability to remember acts of cooperation from other individuals. Dwarf mongooses are Africa’s smallest carnivore, living in cooperatively breeding groups of 5–30 individuals. The research shows that they can quantify the importance of a “helping hand” from other animals and return a similar favor or reward, at a later time. This is the first study to provide evidence of such behavior in non-primate animals.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: PNAS

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