September 21, 2019

    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

    Young mongooses learn from each from a single adult, not the parents
    Inheriting learning not from the parents, but from role models - life science news

    A new study shows that young mongooses learn their eating behavior from role models and not from their parents. This is considered as cultural inheritance, or the transmission of socially learned behavior across generations. In humans, cultural inheritance has a huge influence on human behavior. Humans do not behave on the basis of genetics, but by learning from parents, teachers and cultural role models. While it might be expected that cultural learning leads to uniformity, this is actually not the case, as each mongoose learns from a different individual, and behavioral diversity is maintained.

    Read the full story: University of Exeter
    Scientific publication: Current Biology

    Sharks helped marine biologists to discover a new oceanic region, full of life, in an area considered to be deserted
    Sharks lead scientist to new, rich and diverse oceanic area - science news - marine biology

    After following sharks from the coast of North America for more than 20 years, scientists discovered that they are frequently going to a place located a thousand miles off the coast of Baja California in Mexico. Satellite images suggested that area is an underwater desert, so why do the sharks go there? This mystery triggered more research that involved tagging more than 30 sharks and following them in the ocean. Surprisingly, scientists discovered that the marine region in question was full of life, not at all a desert. It hosts many animals that attract and support large predators, like the sharks. The scientists didn’t know this area existed until sharks led them there. 

    Read the full story: NPR
    More about the marine biology research of the Schmidt Ocean Institute

    Tracking devices provide information about how efficient storks fly and this, in turn, predicts how far they will migrate
    After only 10 minutes of flight, scientists predict if storks migrate to Africa or stay in Europe - science news in brief

    Not all the storks migrate to the warm lands from Africa during the winter. Some of them stop in the south of Europe. Is it possible to predict which birds will travel one way or the other? Now, scientists developed a way to predict if a particular stork will migrate to Western Africa or spend the winter in southern Europe. To understand this, they equipped storks with devices that can track the bird’s location and its acceleration. The prediction is made based on the way the birds fly: efficient fliers migrate to West Africa, while the others will remain in Europe. This is part of an ongoing study that follows over 60 storks on their migration.

    This video shows the different flapping behavior of 27 individual storks. Some of them flap their wings many times (red color) and others fly more efficiently and flap their wings less (blue color). The more efficient flyers are able to exploit favorable air thermals and they will most likely migrate to Africa for the winter. Credit: Max Plank Society. 

    Read the full story: Max Plank Gesellschaft
    Scientific publication: Science

    Aphids live in symbiosis with Buchnera sp., a microorganism that helps the insects produce amino acids
    High-sugar diet – how do insects live on it - science news in brief

    For humans, a diet rich in sugars is very bad for health. However, some insects, like aphids, live almost exclusively by eating sugars from plants and they do very well, despite the inability of their cells to produce important nutrients (like amino acids). So, how does that work? A new study shows that aphids have a symbiotic relationship with some bacteria that live inside their cells. The symbionts stimulate the production of amino acids (essential for building proteins), helping the aphids to survive. Interestingly, the cells that house the symbiotic bacteria have different DNA methylation patterns depending on what type of plant sap the aphid is consuming.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Genes, Genomes, Genetics

    An early mammal relative could have had enough time to spread across continents, as a new study suggests the separation occurred later than previously believed. Credit Jorge A. Gonzalez
    Fossil provides evidence that mammals had more time to spread across continents - science news - paleonthology

    The study of a 130-million-years fossil provided valuable insights into the spread of mammals on different continents. The fossil is evidence that the super-continental split likely occurred much more recently than scientists had previously thought. It suggests that the separation of the ancient landmass Pangea continued much longer, and it was completed about 15 million years later than current estimates. Thus, migrations and spread of wildlife could have occurred for a longer time. The fossil belongs to a new group of early mammal relatives that migrated from Asia to Europe, into North America and further onto major southern continents.

    Read the full story: University of Chicago Medicine
    Scientific publication: Nature

    6-weeks old human embryo, 3D illustration
    How human embryos take shape - life science news

    How do early human embryos know which cell type they should become? To answer this question, scientists have studied human embryonic cells in a petridish, and found that some of them became so-called organizers: cells that send biochemical signals to instruct other cells into which cell type they should differentiate. Then, they transplanted early human embryo cells to early chicken embryos, and observed that the chicken embryo started to from a second spinal column of human origin, but that the nervous system developing with it was from chicken origin. These results show that early decisions in the developing embryo use the same cell types (organizers) and signaling molecules in chicken and humans, and make the study of early fetal life possible.

     Read the full story: Rockefeller University
    Scientific publication: Nature

    Dividing breast cancer cells
    To divide nor not to divide, that’s a cell’s question - life science news

    How does a cell know when it is time to divide? While it was already known that cells need to grow to a certain size before they will divide, scientists have now discovered that this is necessary to accommodate the synthesis of four key proteins in sufficient quantity. These proteins are transcription factors that have to saturate the binding sites of 200 genes to start the cell division’s program. These results are important to for the understanding of the balance between cell growth and cell division, which is implicated in, for instance, cancer.

    Read the full story: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    Scientific publication: Cell Systems

    Variegated fairy wrens recognize and cooperate with individuals from other wren species
    Cooperation by birds from different species - life science news

    While it has long been thought that birds of closely related species compete with each other for territory and food, this turned out not always to be the case. In fact, researchers have found that individuals from two different species of Australian fairy-wrens recognize each other, and even form stable partnerships that help them forage and defend their shared territory as a group. Thus, sociality in birds not only applies to conspecifics, but also to individuals from other species, and this to the benefit of the entire group.

    Read the full story: The University of Chicago Medicine
    Scientific publication: Behavioral Ecology

    When predators are close, giraffes do not group together, as the other animals do
    Giraffes’ group behavior doesn’t follow common sense - science news in brief

    When predators pose a risk, animals gather in larger groups to protect themselves. However, a study showed that this is not true for giraffes. The size of giraffe groups is not influenced by the presence of predators. It is the first time that scientists discover this behavior in animals, opposite to what is normally expected, and it is not clear why they behave like this. This shows how little we know about giraffes, a group of animals listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation in Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. 

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Journal of Zoology

    The study suggests that a chimp’s bed is (surprisingly) cleaner than a human bed
    Who has the filthiest beds: humans or chimpanzees - science news in brief

    A new study analyzed how dirty the “beds” of chimpanzees are by collecting samples and analyzing the number and types of microorganisms and other tiny animals. Only 3.5% of the bacteria found in the beds came from the chimps themselves (the rest comes from the surrounding environment). The bad news is that in a human bed, this number is double! Human beds are full of microorganisms from saliva, skin and even feces. When it comes to parasites (fleas and lice) chimps didn’t have too many. It was surprising how clean the sleeping place of chimps was. On the other hand, it seems that our beds are not as clean as we would like to think…

    Read the full story: Smithsonian
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Science

    Humans and other mammals have the genes required for digesting insects
    Why do we have genes for digesting insects? - science news in brief

    Humans and all other mammals contain genes for chitinases, enzymes involved in digesting the hard outer shell of insects. In most cases, these genes are inactive, but why do we have them in the first place? A new study shows that they are inherited from a common insect-eating ancestor of the present mammals. The scientists found five different chitinase enzyme genes in the genomes of big mammals. This discovery could answer some interesting questions about animal evolution.

    Read the full story: University of California, Berkeley
    Scientific publication: Science Advances

    Coffee plants may be endangered by tiny worms and scientists developed a quick way to identify these damaging organisms
    Scientists declare war against microscopic worm attacking coffee plants - science news in brief

    The coffee farms around the world are attacked and damaged by microscopic worms from the Pratylenchus and Meloidogyne nematode species. The need for an easy and fast way of detecting this worm is increasing and now, a new study shows that this aim can be achieved. Researchers collected soil samples from coffee plantations from Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia and tested them for the DNA of the worms. Using PCR, a reliable technique for detecting and amplifying DNA, they were able to accurately identify the presence of the worms. The bad news was that the study found the nematodes to be extremely common, finding them in all the samples analyzed.

    Read the full story: ScienceDaily
    Scientific publication: Phytopathology

    A new method for replicating RNA might have helped RNA-based primordial life forms to multiply. The figure shows the different structures of DNA (left) and RNA (right).
    Experimental RNA replication system provides clues about how primordial life might have multiplied - science news in brief

    A new type of laboratory-created genetic replication system, not known to exist in nature, offered some clues about how the primordial life might have reproduced. It is likely that the first life forms on Earth were based on RNA, a molecule similar to DNA. There is, however, a problem with the replication of RNA molecules, because they are often folded and this blocks the process. Now scientists managed to create a biological system called a ribozyme that is able to overcome this problem and replicate RNA (including itself). Scientists believe that the “primordial soup” contained some RNA molecules that were able to replicate using a similar mechanism, providing clues about the beginnings of life on our planet.

    Read the full story: Medical Research Council
    Scientific publication: eLife

    For a turtle called the red-eared slider, a hatchling’s sex depends on the temperature in the nest. Cooler temperatures give mostly males, and higher temperature females
    A boy or a girl? Temperature-dependent molecular biology decides in turtles - life science news

    While gender is encoded by our chromosomes, turtles and some other reptiles let temperature decide whether the next generation will be boys or girls. In a new study, biologists have discovered how this works. At low temperature (26 oC), a protein is active that will stimulate the expression of genes that promote the growth of the testes and will thus give male offspring. At high temperature (32 oC), this protein is inactive, no testes are formed, and the offspring will be female. Importantly, the researchers knocked out the gene in embryos that were kept at 26 oC, and female gonads developed where normally testes would be expected to occur. Thus, the determination of gender by temperature is not encoded in the genome, but by a protein that switches on the genetic program for the development of testes.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: Science

    Artist representation of Magyarosuchus, the five-meter long ancestor of modern crocodiles. Credit: Márton Szabó
    Large-bodied fossil monster is missing link in crocodile evolution - science news paleontology in brief

    A fossil found hidden in the mountain of Hungary, in 1996, provided valuable information about how crocodiles evolved, according to a new study. The prehistoric animal was five meters long and it lived 180 million years ago, during the Jurassic. It shares features with two families of prehistoric crocodiles: it had a heavy armor, but also a tail fin. These anatomical details identify it as a very likely candidate for the missing link between the two groups. The newly identified species was baptized Magyarosuchus.

    Read the full story: University of Edinburgh
    Scientific publication: PeerJ

    The DNA of ancient and medieval hepatitis B virus has been analyzed by scientists
    What we learned from 7000 years old hepatitis B virus - science news in brief

    Scientists managed to successfully isolate and reconstruct the DNA of the hepatitis B viruses that infected people about 7000 years ago (Neolithic). They also studied the DNA of medieval viruses extracted from human bones. The study discovered that the ancient viruses were similar to the modern ones, however, they come from a distinct lineage that is now extinct. In fact, the old extinct virus was very similar to chimpanzee and gorilla viruses. The DNA of the Neolithic virus is the oldest virus genomes reconstructed to date.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: eLife

    To discover the secrets of animal movement, scientists have trained a spider to jump on command while filming it with a high-speed camera. The spider can jump over a distance of six times its body length (compare this with maximally 1.5 body lengths for humans!), either using a spring-like mechanism of the muscles or using internal fluid pressure. The first strategy is energetically costly, but brings the necessary precision for capturing prey. The internal fluid pressure system is more economic and used for travelling longer distances to move about in rough terrain. These results may help in the development of a new class of micro-robots with these kinds of movements.

    Read the full story: University of Manchester
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports

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