January 16, 2019

    Our DNA is a puzzle of our own genome and bits and pieces from ancient hominids
    Modern Asians and Melanesians carry DNA from ancient hominids, the Denisovans

    When our early ancestors left Africa, they must have met and mated on two separate occasions with ancient hominids known as the Denisovans. By comparing the genomes from fossiles and modern humans, researchers found that one group of travelling ancestors mixed with Denisovans and ended up in Melanasia (Papua New Guinea and islands close by). 5% of their DNA is inherited from the Denisovans. In the genomes of people from China and Japan, 0.2% of the DNA is from Denisovan origin, resulting from a second time travelling humans and Denisovans crossed each other’s trails. Until today, fossil records do not permit to say what Denisovans looked like, but sure is that they have left their traces in the DNA of modern people.

    Read the full story: The Atlantic – University of Washington
    Scientific publication: Cell

    Two meters of DNA is packaged into the cell's nucleus of just a few micrometers
    DNA folding further unravelled

    A chemical modification of DNA tells a protein called CTCF to make loops in the DNA to package two meters of DNA into a cell to determine which of the genes on the DNA can be expressed. The chemical modification is known as hemimethylation, which was thought to be a random process and not to have a function. Instead, hemimethylation is passed on from parent to daughter cells after cell division, and occurs at the exact same place on the genome. Without hemimethylation, CTCF cannot make the loops. These new observations add to our understanding of DNA folding and the regulation of gene expression.

    Read the full story: Emory University
    Scientific publication: Science

    A new discovery in Africa suggests primitive humans were more sophisticated and had greater cognitive abilities than previously thought
    Primitive tools discovered in Africa suggest our ancestors were smarter than we think - short science news

    A team of anthropologists discovered 320,000 years old stone tools in southern Kenya. The discovery was a surprise since it was considered that this type of tools was produced only later. The available data suggest that homo sapiens started to live in a collective society earlier than believed (previous estimates suggested 100,000 years ago). The processing of the tools, together with the discovery of color pigments, point towards a more advanced society than previously thought of those times. 

    Read the full story: Popular Mechanics
    Scientific publication: Science

    Flatworms can regenerate lost tissues. In this study researchers investigated the cellular mechanisms behind the regeneration of the eye
    How stem cells coordinate tissue regeneration - short life science news

    Using the flatworm as a model organism, scientists tried to understand what are the rules that govern the ability to regenerate tissue from stem cells. The results of the study suggest that regeneration is directed by three mechanisms: creating of a positional map; attracting stem cells (progenitors) to the correct structure and involvement of stem cells originating in a diffuse location rather than a precise one. These principles appear to be the basis for regenerating tissues in animals that have this ability, like the flatworm.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Science

    The color-changing hogfish can “see” with its skin. Credit: Sander van der Wel, Wikimedia Commons
    Fish sees with its skin and scientists uncovered how it works - life science news

    The hogfish has the ability to sense light not only with the eyes, but also with the skin. How exactly is this possible was not known, until now. In a new study the mechanisms of “skin vision” were uncovered. The skin of the fish contains light sensors that evolved separately from the ones in the eyes. They are sensitive to changes in brightness and wavelength so the fish can see a moving shadow or changes in light intensity. The molecular pathway involved in sensing light in the skin is also different from the one in the eye cells.

    Read the full story: Duke University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Comparative Physiology A

    Huge Chinook salmon capture. Oregon, circa 1910. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
    This is why salmons are shrinking in size and numbers - life science news in short

    A century ago, it was common for fisherman to catch salmons as big as a human, especially in the case of the Chinook salmon, the biggest known species. Presently, both the size and the numbers of salmons have decreased and a new research study has some explanations for it. One reason is that orcas (killer whales), which are the main predator of Chinook salmon, are targeting the older and bigger fish. Moreover, the population of salmon-eating orcas has increased recently. However, humans are still part of the blame due to overfishing, habitat destruction and salmon hatcheries that have diluted the genetic pool of wild salmons.

    Read the full story: NPR
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports

    Gold Molokai spider. Credit: George Roderick / UC Berkley
    One spider group evolved into 14 different species in Hawaii - life biology news in short

    Adaptive radiation is an evolutionary process through which new species evolve rapidly from an ancestral species in order to adapt to a new environment. This is exactly what happened to a group of spiders that arrived in Hawaii two to three million years ago. This original species gave rise to 14 new ones that can be found today. They all share similar body shapes, but each has distinctive physical traits. A new study shows that evolution lead to a predictable and independently evolved set of similar forms in spiders on different islands. This phenomenon is very rarely observed and it provides valuable insights into the mechanisms of biodiversity.

    Read the full story: UC Berkley
    Scientific publication: Current Biology

    Many animals help their relatives to ensure survival during challenging times
    When the going gets tough animals stay at home to protect their family - biology science news

    A new study shows that sudden changes in the environment push many animal species to protect their families. They stay at “home” and help raise their relatives, as for example in the case of sterile worker bees. This type of altruism has been observed in many species from birds to bees. By helping their relatives during a bad environment change the animals ensure survival and efficient reproduction. In many cases the “helpers” also provide support for animals that are not close relatives as a way to ensure species survival. The study helps understand how cooperation between animals is achieved.

    Read the full story: University of Bristol
    Scientific publication: Nature

    Crepdiula onyx, a species of snail tolerate microplastics better than other species
    Marine snails more resilient to microplastics pollution - short life science news

    Some marine organisms tolerate pollution very well. Crepdiula onyx, a species of snail, is one of them and it was used as a model to study the immunity to microplastic particles on ocean life. Microplastics are tiny particles (between several micrometers and five millimeters in size) that account for roughly 90% of the plastic floating in the ocean. The study found that the snail larvae exposed to high concentrations of microparticles grew less, compared to the control and this was carried out later in adult life. However, at lower concentrations the snails were not affected, showing that they are more resilient than other marine animals.

    Read the full story: Science Daily
    Scientific publication: Environmental Pollution

    Bacteria living in the Dead Sea in Israel have solved the problem of living with oxidative stress
    How bacteria resist oxidative stress : implications for treatment of human diseases

    Bacteria living in extreme conditions, such as in salty lakes, produce huge amounts of small, non-coding RNA molecules that protect against oxidative stress. These RNAs do that by degrading messenger RNAs that encode proteins that play a role in oxidative stress. These proteins were thus not made, allowing the bacteria to live in hostile conditions that cause massive oxidative stress. This new insight might lead to better treatments for human diseases that are caused by oxidative stress (neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease and others).

    Read the full story: Johns Hopkins University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Bacteriology

    Many features of modern birds were already present in birds living more than 100 million years ago
    Fossil baby bird from dinosaur times reveals early avian evolution

    Researchers have found a small fossil of a prehistoric bird that hatched 127 million years ago, when dinosaurs were dominating the Earth. It died shortly after hatching, with its sternum (breastplate bone) still being made of cartilage and not yet developed into hard bone which would have made flying possible. Comparing bone formation of this baby bird with other prehistoric birds revealed that development must have been quite diverse in these early birds and was probably driven by ecological demands and lifestyle.

    Read the full story: University of Manchester
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications

    Panthera Indochinese Leopards. Credit: Panthera-WildCRU-WWF-Cambodia-FA
    Cambodia’s Last Leopards risk immediate extinction - short environment news

    A new study has investigated the last breeding population of leopards in Cambodia and the results are alarming. The population of leopards in this region has declined by 72% over the last five years and it is at immediate risk of extinction. This group is the last remaining population of leopards in eastern Indochina. Several factors have contributed to the situation, like poaching, which has increased lately, and illegal wildlife trade. The study also reveals interesting details about the behavior of the leopards. They are the only population in the world whose pray (a wild species of cattle) is larger than 500 kg (1,100 pounds), which is five times the leopard’s mass.

    Read the full story: Panthera Organization
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Science

    Two distinct lineages of ravens have merged into a single species, genetic data suggest
    Speciation reversal: two species of ravens merged into one - short science news

    Speciation is an important concept in evolution and it represents the branching of a species into two new, distinct species. The opposite, termed “speciation reversal”, also happens and it is exemplified in a recent study investigating ravens. After examining the genome of hundreds of ravens across North America, the study found that two lineages of ravens (that diverged between one and two million years ago) have been hybridizing and are merging into a single species. Speciation reversal is a very important evolutionary phenomenon and it has contributed to the evolution of the modern humans, which are the result of hybridization between Neanderthals, Denisovans and other extinguished hominids.

    Read the full story: University of Washington
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications

    How does singing work in tonal languages, where a change in pitch can modify the meaning of a word?
    A universal pattern in adapting the sounds of a language for music  - short science news

    In some languages, pitch is used to distinguish between different words. However, the same pitch is also employed in singing, so how can someone speaking such a language also sing? A change in pitch, imposed by the music, may change the meaning of a word, converting “dog” into “brother”, or even worse. Scientists studied the speakers of Tommo So language from Mali to understand how it works. They discovered that Tommo So music avoids making singers sing words in pitches that directly contradict how they are spoken in non-musical contexts. The principle is similar to the rules of poetic metric in English and Latin, thus pointing towards a universal mechanism for adapting sounds for artistic expression.

    Read the full story: Linguistic Society of America
    Scientific publication: Language

    Healthy male house finch
    An imperfect immune system makes pathogens stronger and more dangerous

    Incomplete host immunity drives the evolution of deadly pathogen strains, making them stronger and more dangerous for the individuals that they will infect next. Birds infected with less virulent pathogens developed partial immune memory that did not protect against the virulent strains. This favored the spreading and survival of the virulent strains, causing more disease or death among the birds. The results not only show complex host-pathogen interaction in wild animals, but are also relevant for vaccination programmes in humans.

    Read the full story: Virginia Tech
    Scientific publication: Science

    The proposed structure of the virus. Credit: Montana State University
    Virus living in boiling acid hot springs assembles in an entirely new way - short science news

    In the hot, acid springs from Yellowstone lives a little-known virus, called Acidianus tailed spindle virus. Not much was now about the structure of the viral particles and about how they assemble, until now. In a new paper, scientists describe the architectural principles that underlie assembly of the virus. The process is entirely new and it may have important applications for nanotechnology. This is the first time scientists really understood how this class of viruses is put together.

    Read the full story: www.sciencebriefss.com
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    A new species of tardigrade, one of the most resistant organisms on Earth, was discovered in Japan
    New tardigrade species discovered - short science news

    Tardigrades (water bears) are microscopic organisms living all over the world. They are popularly known for their ability to survive in extreme conditions, including in space. Researchers report the discovery of a new species of tardigrade in Japan. Baptized Macrobiotus shonaicus, the tiny organisms were identified after careful examination of moss samples using phase contrast light microscopy and electron microscopy. The new species has particularities in the morphology of the eggs. Currently there are 168 species of tardigrades known in Japan, including the newly discovered one.

    Read the full story: Science Daily
    Scientific publication: PLOS ONE

    During deep dives dolphins are in danger of dying due to lack of oxygen.
    Dolphins carefully plan their dives in order to preserve oxygen - short science news

    Dolphins find their food in the deep of the oceans. But, during a dive for food they are in danger of dying due to lack of oxygen. In order to use oxygen efficiently, dolphins carefully plan their dives based on previous experiences. This discovery is very intriguing because there is disagreement in the scientific community about the ability of nonhuman animals to use past information. This is mostly considered an ability that only humans have, but the study suggests otherwise.

    Read the full story: NPR
    Scientific publication: Journal of experimental biology

    Reforestation promotes the return of animal species to the rainforest, even after 30 years
    Bats and other species come back 30 years after rainforest devastation - short science news

    In the Brazilian Amazon cutting the rainforest resulted in isolation of forest fragments and loss of many species. A study investigated looked at how regeneration of the forest influences the animal species 30 years later after the initial deforestation. The study looked over 50 species of bats and it concluded they are returning to the forest. This comeback was reflected in the beetle and bird populations, as well. These parallel trends reinforce the idea that the benefits of forest regeneration are widespread, and suggest that habitat restoration can ameliorate some of the harm inflicted by humans on tropical wildlife”, says Dr. Ricardo Rocha, lead author of the study.

    Read the full story: University of Salford Manchester
    Scientific publication: Nature

    All these king penguins may be on the move soon to find better breeding grounds
    King penguin may be forced to find new habitats soon

    Rising global temperatures may force 70% of the king penguin population to move south to prevent starvation of their offspring. The Antarctic Polar Front that penguins rely on for their food supply starts to move south, away from the breeding grounds so that the penguins spend too much time at sea to catch fish to feed the young. An analysis of the penguin genome has revealed that these emblematic birds are able to migrate to more favourable places when situations change, but whether they can do so in the face of global warming induced by human activities is still an open question.

    Read the full story: Universität Wien
    Scientific publication: Nature Climate Change

    3D illustration of cells with two meters of DNA packaged in chromosomes
    This is how two meters of DNA is packaged into a single cell

    A single protein complex called condensin has been found to compact a cell’s DNA by extruding many loops. This collection of loops becomes visible as chromosomes, and makes sure that the genome of a cell will be distributed evenly to its daughter cells following cell division. These new findings settle a long-standing debate over how two meters of DNA is organised in a single cell, and might help to better understand genetic illnesses such as cancer and Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

    Read the full story: TU Delft
    Scientific publication: Science

    Asian elephants have individual personalities manifested through three different factors
    Elephants have different personality traits, just like us! - short science news

    A new study shows that Asian elephants have a clear personality which is influenced by three factors: Attentiveness, Sociability and Aggressiveness, as the researchers called them. "Attentiveness is related to how an elephant acts in and perceives its environment. Sociability describes how an elephant seeks closeness to other elephants and humans, and how popular they are as social partners. Aggressiveness shows how aggressively an elephant acts towards other elephants and how much it interferes in their social interaction," describes Dr Seltmann the lead author of the study. Such complex personality structure, similar to humans, could be the result of the rich social environments in which elephants live.

    Read the full story: University of Turku
    Scientific publication: Royal Society Open Science

    Chameleon bacteria adapt to different wavelengths of light by changing their color
    Bacteria can shift color to match different colored light across the world’s oceans - science news

    Light is not the same color under the sea. Blue light is prevalent in the open ocean, green light in coastal and equatorial waters, and red light in estuaries. Synechococcus cyanobacteria, a species essential for oceanic ecology, have found a way to adapt in order use all colors of light to produce energy. The bacteria contain specific genes which alter their pigmentation depending on the type of light in which they float, allowing them to adapt and thrive in any part of the world’s oceans. These specific ‘chromatic adaptor’ genes are abundant in ocean dwelling Synechococcus and it represents a mechanism through which bacteria functions in various environments to keep the balance in the oceans.

    Read the full story: www.sciencebriefss.com
    Scientific publication: PNAS

    Could cave art be at the origin of human language? Example of cave art found in Patagonia, Argentina
    Cave paintings may be linked to the origin of language - short science news

    It is currently unknown when humans developed spoken language. A new theory suggests cave paintings may have something to do with this. Cave art is found everywhere in the world, mostly in places with special acoustics, where sound echoes strongly. The drawings may represent the first sounds that humans produced. Cave art was thus used to communicate, much like we do now, in modern times, when combinations of sound and images are very common. This is for now only a working hypothesis, but it will certainly stimulate discussions about the origin of language.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Frontiers in Psychology

    Land plants appeared on Earth earlier than previously believed
    Land plants appeared on Earth earlier than previously believed

    The first plant evolved after 4 billion years from the formation of our planet. Before that, the only life on our planet was represented by microbial microorganisms. Previous estimates based on fossil plants suggested that land plants appeared around 420 million years ago. However, a new study is challenging this view. Using a “molecular clock” methodology, the new study places the moment of origin for plants around 520 million years ago. To reach this conclusion, scientists considered genetic differences between living species, but also fossil constraints on the age of their shared ancestors, to establish an evolutionary timescale that sees through the gaps in the fossil record.

    Read the full story: Eureka Alert
    Scientific publication: PNAS

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