International Business Times A Secret History Of Women In Science, From Marie Curie To Florence Nightingale International Business Times The rare book club is playing host to a massive exhibit of books, papers and other artifacts illustrating the...
Fast-accumulating data seem to indicate that our close cousins, the Neanderthals, were much more similar to us than imagined even a decade ago. But did they have anything like modern speech and language? And if so, what are the implications for understanding present-day linguistic diversity? The MPI for Psycholinguistics researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson argue in their paper in Frontiers in Language Sciences that modern language and speech can be traced back to the last common ancestor we shared with the Neandertals roughly half a million years ago.
The Neanderthals have fascinated both the academic world and the general public ever since their discovery almost 200 years ago. Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods. We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis), but it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation. Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realise that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours.
Dediu and Levinson review all these strands of literature and argue that essentially modern language and speech are an ancient feature of our lineage dating back at least to the most recent ancestor we shared with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans (another form of humanity known mostly from their genome). Their interpretation of the intrinsically ambiguous and scant evidence goes against the scenario usually assumed by most language scientists, namely that of a sudden and recent emergence of modernity, presumably due to a single – or very few – genetic mutations. This pushes back the origins of modern language by a factor of 10 from the often-cited 50 or so thousand years, to around a million years ago – somewhere between the origins of our genus, Homo, some 1.8 million years ago, and the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis. This reassessment of the evidence goes against a saltationist scenario where a single catastrophic mutation in a single individual would suddenly give rise to language, and suggests that a gradual accumulation of biological and cultural innovations is much more plausible.
Interestingly, given that we know from the archaeological record and recent genetic data that the modern humans spreading out of Africa interacted both genetically and culturally with the Neanderthals and Denisovans, then just as our bodies carry around some of their genes, maybe our languages preserve traces of their languages too. This would mean that at least some of the observed linguistic diversity is due to these ancient encounters, an idea testable by comparing the structural properties of the African and non-African languages, and by detailed computer simulations of language spread.
A frozen woolly mammoth named Yuka goes on display in Japan. The female was found in Russia and was 10 years old when she died. Scientists have made several unsuccessful attempts to revive the species. But mammoth expert Norihisa Inuzuka says Yuka should provide more information about these creatures.
Norihisa Inuzuka, mammoth expert, saying (Japanese): "With this, we can dig deeper into the reasons why species became extinct and apply the lessons learnt to the human race which might be facing its own dangers of extinction. I think it can help us learn to reflect more deeply about our own existence."
What makes the carcass special is that it is extraordinarily well-preserved with presence of liquid blood in it along with pink flesh and fur. The blood, according to scientists, could be used to clone the animal.
"When we broke the ice beneath her stomach, the blood flowed out from there, it was very dark. This is the most astonishing case in my entire life. How was it possible for it to remain in liquid form? And the muscle tissue is also red, the colour of fresh meat," Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the expedition that found Yuki said.
Yuka's lower part is well-preserved as it ended up in a swamp before it froze, but its head along with back show signs of gnawing, Grigoryev added.
Mammoths are an extinct group of elephants that belong to the genus Mammuthus. Their ancestors had migrated from Africa about 3.5 million years back. The most famous of these ancient elephants is the woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, which is a close cousin of the modern elephant. The woolly mammoth appeared in the northeastern Siberia around 400,000 years back and was well-adapted to cold with dense fur, short ears and a dense undercoat.
The exhibition runs from July 13th to September 16th.
A new fossilized, cigar-shaped creature that lived about 520 million years ago has been unearthed in Morocco.
The newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis, has "characteristics that place it as the most primitive echinoderm that has fivefold symmetry," said study co-author Andrew Smith, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, referring to the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins. Modern echinoderms typically have five-point symmetry, such as the five arms of the starfish or the sand dollar's distinctive pattern.
The primitive sea creature, described today (June 25) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could even change its body shape from slender to stumpy. Researchers say it is a transitional animal that could help explain how early echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said.
H. moroccoensis, named after the country where it was found, had a cylindrical body that extended up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) long. The echinoderm's mouth was on the top of its body, and it sported a cup made of checkered plates with a small stem at its base. It had a latticelike skeleton made of calcite.
"It's a cigar-shaped beast, and it was able to expand and contract that cigar shape," Smith told LiveScience. "Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin."
The tiny sea creatures changed shape using a spiraling arrangement of five ambulacra, or grooves coming from the mouth that opened and closed to capture bits of food floating in the water.
The newly discovered species is the oldest known echinoderm with five ambulacra, and could shed light on how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said.
H. moroccoensis was also found in sediments containing several other bizarre echinoderms, many of which had wacky body plans, ranging from completely asymmetrical to bilaterally symmetrical. That wide variety suggests the creatures were going through a period of dramatic diversification around that time period, Smith said.
"The important thing about the whole fauna is that there is already, by this time, a remarkable diversity in body form," Smith said. "And yet this is only 10 [million] to 15 million years after the calcite skeleton evolved."
The lungs of birds have long been known to move air in only one direction during both inspiration and expiration through most of the tubular gas-exchanging bronchi (parabronchi). Recently a similar pattern of airflow has even been observed in Alligators, a sister taxon to birds. The pattern of flow appears to be due to the arrangement of the primary and secondary bronchi, which, via their branching angles, generate inspiratory and expiratory aerodynamic valves. Both the anatomical similarity of the avian and alligator lung and the similarity in the patterns of airflow raise the possibility that these features are plesiomorphic for Archosauria and therefore did not evolve in response to selection for flapping flight or an endothermic metabolism, as has been generally assumed. As in birds and alligators, air flows cranially to caudally in the cervical ventral bronchus, and caudally to cranially in the dorsobronchi in the lungs of Nile crocodiles. The cervical ventral bronchus, cranial dorsobronchi and cranial medial bronchi display similar characteristics to their proposed homologues in the alligator, while there is considerable variation in the tertiary and caudal group bronchi. Taken together, these data indicate that the aspects of the crocodilian and avian bronchial tree that maintain the aerodynamic valves and thus generate unidirectional airflow, are ancestral for Archosauria and have evolved over 100 million years ago.
A U.S. congressman is attracting attention and criticism for an online video that shows him blasting evolution and the Big Bang theory as “lies from the pit of hell” in a recent speech at a church event in his home state of Georgia.
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” U.S Rep. Paul Broun said in an address last month at a banquet organized by Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
Broun, a medical doctor by training, serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. [MORE]
The story of the Neandertals may need a new ending, a controversial study suggests. Using improved radiocarbon methods, scientists redated two of the youngest known Neandertal cave sites and concluded that they are at least 10,000 years older than previous studies have found.
The findings cast doubt on the reliability of radiocarbon dates from other recent Neandertal sites, the researchers suggest online February 4, 2013, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This means the last Neandertals might have died out much earlier than previously thought, which could cause anthropologists to rethink how and why these hominids vanished. Researchers have long debated whether the harsh Ice Age climate, the appearance of modern humans migrating out of Africa, or some other factor drove Neandertals to extinction.
“The paper is simply excellent,” says archaeologist Olaf Jöris of the Romano-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz, Germany. The new research supports Jöris’ own review of Neandertal dates, in which he concluded that the most-recent Neandertals probably lived around 42,000 years ago. The standard view suggests that the last of these hominids occupied Europe as recently as about 28,000 years ago.
But other archaeologists are not convinced by the new work. “We shouldn’t get too carried away over results that amount to a few radiocarbon dates from two sites,” says Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at Durham University in England.
ENLARGE This Neandertal jaw from a cave in southern Spain may be at least 10,000 years older than previously estimated, a new dating analysis suggests.
Over the last couple of decades, archaeologists have determined that the Iberian Peninsula was one of the last Neandertal refuges. Neandertals throughout much of Europe appear to have gone extinct around the same time that modern humans reached the continent, at least 42,000 years ago. But the favorable climate of southern Spain and Gibraltar may have helped Neandertals hang on in for another 10,000 years or so. Getting a precise chronology is crucial to understanding what factors played a role in the Neandertals’ demise and the degree to which Neandertals and humans interacted and possibly interbred, researchers say.
A disease which robs children of the ability to walk and talk has been cured by pioneering gene therapy to correct errors in their DNA, say doctors. The study, in the journal Science, showed the three patients were now going to school. A second study published at the same time has shown a similar therapy reversing a severe genetic disease affecting the immune system.
Gene therapy researchers said it was a "really exciting" development.
Both diseases are caused by errors in the patient's genetic code - the manual for building and running their bodies.
Babies born with metachromatic leukodystrophy appear healthy, but their development starts to reverse between the ages of one and two as part of their brain is destroyed. Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome leads to a defective immune system. It makes patients more susceptible to infections, cancers and the immune system can also attack other parts of the body.
The technique, developed by a team of researchers at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, used a genetically modified virus to correct the damaging mutations in a patient's genes.
Bone marrow stem cells are taken from the patient then the virus is used to 'infect' the cells with tiny snippets of DNA which contain the correct instructions. These are then put back into the patient.
Three children were picked for treatment from families with a history of metachromatic leukodystrophy, but before their brain function started to decline.
Prof Luigi Naldini, who leads the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy, said: "Three years after the start of the clinical trial the results obtained from the first six patients are very encouraging.
"The therapy is not only safe, but also effective and able to change the clinical history of these severe diseases.
"After 15 years of effort and our successes in the laboratory, but frustration as well, it's really exciting to be able to give a concrete solution to the first patients."
Skymania News Mystery space signals baffle astronomers Skymania News What astronomers are fairly certain of is that the signals were caused by cataclysmic events far outside our own galaxy, at cosmological distances of billions of light-years and...
Theoretical physicist Marcelo Montemurro and colleague Damián H. Zanette have published a paper in the journal PLOS ONE claiming that the Voynich text is likely not a hoax as some have suggested. The two researchers along with others at the University of Manchester in the U.K. analyzed a digital copy of the text and say that computer assisted analyses of the "book" suggest it does harbor meaning, though what that might be is still a mystery.
The Voynich text is a book made up of 104 folios—each page has graphemes (arrays of characters) and drawings on it. It first came to light in 1912 when Wilfrid Voynich claimed to have found it in an Italian Monastery. The graphemes suggest words made up of characters that do not appear in any other known language. Since the time of its discovery, various researchers have sought to determine if the text is written in an unknown language, or if it is instead a book created by someone as a hoax. Adding to the mystery of the text are the drawings of plants on most of the pages—none of them are known to exist in nature. Carbon dating of the text suggests it was created sometime in the 1400s—but that that doesn't offer proof that the writing on the parchment was done during that period, leaving some to suggest it was Voynich himself who created the characters and drawings. To date, no one has been able to prove whether the text has meaning or if it is simply pages of gibberish. To learn more, Montemurro and his team turned to advanced computer analysis.
To analyze the text, researchers assign modern language letters to characters; this allows for the application of algorithms. In this case, the team looked at global patterns of "words" that appear throughout the text. This process represents a novel way to view the semantics. One type of pattern distribution known as "entropy" allows researchers to compare documents to one another using a computer. The method offers a single number that describes the complexity of the text. The Voynich text received a score of 805, compared to 728 for text samples written in English and 580 for those written in Chinese. A comparison of the Voynich score to yeast DNA samples (25) and a program written in Fortran (285) suggests the Voynich text is more complicated than simple gibberish.
The team notes that the text also conforms to Zipf's law—it states that words in real languages are inversely proportional their rank in a frequency table. Taken together, the researchers conclude that the Vonynich text mostly likely contains real information and thus, is not a hoax.
For most terrestrial life on Earth, oxygen is necessary for survival. But the planet's atmosphere did not always contain this life-sustaining substance, and one of science's greatest mysteries is how and when oxygenic photosynthesis—the process responsible for producing oxygen on Earth through the splitting of water molecules—first began. Now, a team led by geobiologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has found evidence of a precursor photosystem involving manganese that predates cyanobacteria, the first group of organisms to release oxygen into the environment via photosynthesis.
The findings, outlined in the June 24, 2013, early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), strongly support the idea that manganese oxidation—which, despite the name, is a chemical reaction that does not have to involve oxygen—provided an evolutionary stepping-stone for the development of water-oxidizing photosynthesis in cyanobacteria.
"Water-oxidizing or water-splitting photosynthesis was invented by cyanobacteria approximately 2.4 billion years ago and then borrowed by other groups of organisms thereafter," explains Woodward Fischer, assistant professor of geobiology at Caltech and a coauthor of the study. "Algae borrowed this photosynthetic system from cyanobacteria, and plants are just a group of algae that took photosynthesis on land, so we think with this finding we're looking at the inception of the molecular machinery that would give rise to oxygen."
Photosynthesis is the process by which energy from the sun is used by plants and other organisms to split water and carbon dioxide molecules to make carbohydrates and oxygen. Manganese is required for water splitting to work, so when scientists began to wonder what evolutionary steps may have led up to an oxygenated atmosphere on Earth, they started to look for evidence of manganese-oxidizing photosynthesis prior to cyanobacteria. Since oxidation simply involves the transfer of electrons to increase the charge on an atom—and this can be accomplished using light or O2—it could have occurred before the rise of oxygen on this planet.
A new study finds that genes for diet, behavior, and disease in dogs and humans have evolved together.
Researchers from the University of Chicago and several international institutions found that several groups of genes in humans and dogs—including those related to diet and digestion, neurological processes, and disease—have been evolving in parallel for thousands of years.
This parallel evolution was likely driven by the shared environments of humans and dogs, wrote the authors in a study published May 14, 2013 in the journal Nature Communications.
"As domestication is often associated with large increases in population density and crowded living conditions, these 'unfavorable' environments might be the selective pressure that drove the rewiring of both species," the authors surmise.
For example, living in crowded conditions with humans may have conferred an advantage on less aggressive dogs, leading to more submissive canines and eventually to the pets whose puppy-dog eyes gaze at us with unconditional affection.
The study authors suggest that dogs were domesticated 32,000 years ago; that's much earlier than current estimates, which place domestication at around 15,000 to 16,000 years ago.
"Thirty-two thousand is a little bit old," said Bob Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Although he does acknowledge that the timing of a split between wolves and dogs has varied widely—ranging between 6,000 and 120,000 years ago.
The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.
As omnivores, humans have historically faced the difficult task of identifying and gathering food that satisfies nutritional needs while avoiding foodborne illnesses. This process has contributed to the current diet of humans, which is influenced by factors ranging from an evolved preference for sugar and fat to palatability, nutritional value, culture, ease of production, and climate. The relatively small number of recipes in use (∼10E6, e.g. http://cookpad.com) compared to the enormous number of potential recipes (>10E15), together with the frequent recurrence of particular combinations in various regional cuisines, indicates that we are exploiting but a tiny fraction of the potential combinations. Although this pattern itself can be explained by a simple evolutionary model or data-driven approaches, a fundamental question still remains: are there any quantifiable and reproducible principles behind our choice of certain ingredient combinations and avoidance of others?
Although many factors such as colors, texture, temperature, and sound play an important role in food sensation, palatability is largely determined by flavor, representing a group of sensations including odors (due to molecules that can bind olfactory receptors), tastes (due to molecules that stimulate taste buds), and freshness or pungency (trigeminal senses). Therefore, the flavor compound (chemical) profile of the culinary ingredients is a natural starting point for a systematic search for principles that might underlie our choice of acceptable ingredient combinations.
A hypothesis, which over the past decade has received attention among some chefs and food scientists, states that ingredients sharing flavor compounds are more likely to taste well together than ingredients that do not (for more info, see http://www.foodpairing.com). This food pairing hypothesis has been used to search for novel ingredient combinations and has prompted, for example, some contemporary restaurants to combine white chocolate and caviar, as they share trimethylamine and other flavor compounds, or chocolate and blue cheese that share at least 73 flavor compounds. As we search for evidence supporting (or refuting) any ‘rules’ that may underlie our recipes, we must bear in mind that the scientific analysis of any art, including the art of cooking, is unlikely to be capable of explaining every aspect of the artistic creativity involved. Furthermore, there are many ingredients whose main role in a recipe may not be only flavoring but something else as well (e.g. eggs' role to ensure mechanical stability or paprika's role to add vivid colors). Finally, the flavor of a dish owes as much to the mode of preparation as to the choice of particular ingredients. However, one hypothesis is that, given the large number of recipes we use in our analysis (56,498), such factors can be systematically filtered out, allowing for the discovery of patterns that may transcend specific dishes or ingredients.