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Men And Women Had Different Diets in This Ancient Roman Town Destroyed by a Volcano

Men And Women Had Different Diets in This Ancient Roman Town Destroyed by a Volcano

The bones of victims of the 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius in the nearby town of Herculaneum have revealed fascinating differences in the diets of the local men and women.

According to an analysis of isotopes in the bones, men ate more cereals and seafood, and women ate more eggs, dairy, and meat from terrestrial animals. The reasons for these gender-based differences are unclear, but could be attributed to differences in occupations, cultural taboos, or power-based societal stratification.

Not only does the work give us this snapshot of life in this ancient Roman town, it describes new analytical techniques that reveal historic dietary data in more detail than ever before.

“The remains of those who perished at Herculaneum in 79 CE offer a unique opportunity to examine the lifestyles across an ancient community who lived and died together. Historical sources often allude to differential access to foodstuffs across Roman society but rarely provide direct or quantitative information,” said archaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York in the UK.

“We found significant differences in the proportions of marine and terrestrial foods consumed between males and females, implying that access to food was differentiated according to gender.”

In August of the year 79 CE, you would not have wanted to be in the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius. The rumbling volcano blew its stack in spectacular fashion, killing thousands of residents in the nearby towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other settlements. Most of these victims were either asphyxiated by gas and ash, or killed by the intense heat of pyroclastic surges the volcano sent tearing through its surroundings.

The ash that rained down on these towns was catastrophic; Herculaneum – just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the volcano – was buried up to 23 meters (75 feet) deep. As a consequence, the bodies of those killed in this event were remarkably well preserved, which has afforded incredible insight into the life of the town.

A team of researchers analyzed bones from 17 people who had died taking shelter from the falling ash – 11 men and 6 women. Specifically, they were looking for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the amino acids, which can reveal what a person ate over their lifetime.

This is because combinations of isotopes in the environment can be taken up by plants, to be eaten and absorbed by people and other animals. The mix of isotopes replaces a small portion of the calcium in human teeth and bones, preserving the isotope ratio as a record of their diet.

After finding and analyzing these isotopes, the next step the team used was modelling to reconstruct the diets of the Vesuvius victims. Combined with the high-resolution isotope analysis technique the team used, this allowed for a very detailed breakdown of the people’s diets.

On average, they found, the men obtained over 50 percent more seafood protein than women did, as well as a slightly higher proportion of protein from cereal grains than women. Women, on the other hand, ate more terrestrial meats, as well as local fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.

The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear. It could have been cultural prohibitions, or an uneven distribution of power, that resulted in certain foods being restricted from women. There was, however, much greater variability among men’s diets than among women’s; some men ate more cereal grains than others.

This could be preferential, but there could have been other reasons for it. Or, of course, there could have been a number of contributing factors, including the work people did.

“Our research builds on what we know that males had greater access to marine fish at Herculaneum and more broadly in Roman Italy,” said archaeologist Silvia Soncin of the University of York.

“Males were more likely to be directly engaged in fishing and maritime activities, they generally occupied more privileged positions in society, and were freed from slavery at an earlier age providing greater access to expensive commodities, such as fresh fish.”

The research has been published in Science Advances.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 18:00:01 +0000

This Fast Radio Burst Repeats in a Strict Pattern, And We Still Can’t Figure Out Why

This Fast Radio Burst Repeats in a Strict Pattern, And We Still Can't Figure Out Why

After taking new radio observations, astronomers have ruled out a leading explanation for the cyclic nature of a particularly curious repeating space signal.

The signal in question is FRB 20180916B, which repeats with a 16.35-day periodicity. According to existing models, this could result from interactions between closely orbiting stars; however, the new detections – which include fast radio burst (FRB) observations at the lowest frequencies yet – do not make sense for such a binary system.

“Strong stellar winds from the companion of the fast radio burst source were expected to let most blue, short-wavelength radio light escape the system. But the redder long-wavelength radio should be blocked more, or even completely,” said astrophysicist Inés Pastor-Marazuela of the University of Amsterdam and ASTRON in the Netherlands.

“Existing binary-wind models predicted the bursts should shine only in blue, or at least last much longer there. But we saw two days of bluer radio bursts, followed by three days of redder radio bursts. We rule out the original models now – something else must be going on.”

Fast radio bursts are one of the most fascinating mysteries in the cosmos. They’re extremely short bursts of very powerful short-wavelength radio waves – as in, just milliseconds in duration, and discharging as much energy as 500 million Suns in that time. Most of the FRB sources we’ve detected have only been seen once; this makes them unpredictable and hard to study.

A few FRB sources have been detected repeating, although most have done so erratically. FRB 20180916B is one of the two exceptions found repeating on a cycle, which makes it an excellent case for learning more about these mysterious events.

Last year, we also got a major lead on what could be causing FRBs – the first such signal detected coming from within the Milky Way. It was spat out by a magnetar, a type of neutron star with an insanely powerful magnetic field.

But that doesn’t mean the case is entirely solved. We don’t know why some FRBs repeat, and others don’t, for instance – and why, for the repeating FRBs, periodicity has only been detected rarely.

When FRB 20180916B was found to repeat on a cycle, one of the leading explanations was that the neutron star emitting the burst was in a binary system with a 16.35-day orbit. If this were the case, then lower-frequency, longer radio wavelengths should be altered by the charged wind of particles surrounding the binary.

Pastor-Marazuela and her colleagues used two telescopes to make simultaneous observations of the FRB – the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope, and the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope, both headquartered in the Netherlands. When they analyzed the data, they found redder wavelengths in the LOFAR data – meaning that binary winds could not be present to block them.

Nor, for that matter, could other low-frequency absorbing or scattering mechanisms, such as dense electron clouds.

“The fact that some fast radio bursts live in clean environments, relatively unobscured by any dense electron mist in the host galaxy, is very exciting,” said astronomer Liam Connor of the University of Amsterdam and ASTRON.

“Such bare fast radio bursts will allow us to hunt down the elusive baryonic matter that remains unaccounted for in the Universe.”

So if the binary explanation is ruled out, what could be causing the periodicity? Well, it’s still not aliens, sorry.

One explanation suggested last year involves a single object, such as a rotating magnetar or pulsar. This was thought to be a poorer fit for the data than binary wind of charged particles, since those objects have a wobbling rotation that produces periodicity, and none are known to wobble that slowly.

But with the binary wind off the table, thanks to the LOFAR and Westerbork observations, a slowly wobbling magnetar is back on it. And this suggests we still have quite a bit to learn about both magnetars and FRBs.

“An isolated, slowly rotating magnetar best explains the behavior we discovered,” Pastor-Marazuela said.

“It feels a lot like being a detective – our observations have considerably narrowed down which fast radio burst models can work.”

The research has been published in Nature.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 05:52:20 +0000

Police Raid in Brazil Saves The Most Detailed Pterosaur Fossil Discovered to Date

Police Raid in Brazil Saves The Most Detailed Pterosaur Fossil Discovered to Date

A police raid in Brazil has saved our scientific knowledge of an incredibly well-preserved flying lizard that sported a ridiculously large head crest.

The police had been investigating illegal fossil trade, and in 2013 found the pterosaur Tupandactylus navigans fossil amongst 3,000 other specimens. 

University of São Paulo paleontologist Victor Beccari and colleagues realized they had the most complete fossil of Tapejaridae (a group of crested pterosaurs) after piecing together the 2-meter limestone slab that had been sawed into six pieces to make it easier to hide.

CT scans helped reveal the amazing detail of the animal’s unwieldy head ornament – almost half of the animal’s total height – imprinted in the stone, which the researchers have just described in a new paper. 

Pterosaurs are relatively rare in the fossil record because they have fragile, thinly walled hollow bones that allow them to remain light for flight – previously only fragments of tapejarid heads had been recovered.

The absence of lake-floor dwelling animals where the fossil was buried, in what’s now the Crato Formation, suggests lack of oxygen contributed to the remarkable preservation of this fossil’s soft crest and beak tissues.

T. navigans had a strange crest jangling down from its lower jaw too, as can be seen in the stunning paleoart the newly revealed fossil is inspiring on Twitter.

“This pterosaur was over 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in wingspan and was 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall (40 percent of this is accounted for by the head crest),” Beccari told CNN. “With such a tall head crest and a relatively long neck, this animal may have been restricted to short-distance flights.”

Around 115 million years ago, these ancient lizards may have used their ability to fly to flee predators via the skies over what’s now northern Brazil, the team explains. Their flight was supported by a bone called the notarium.

This bone is a fusion of the first chest vertebrae that increases resistance to the bending and torsion stresses caused by flapping wings; the presence of the notarium confirms the pterosaur was indeed capable of powered flight.

Comparing the fossil to previous finds, the team suspects some differences might be due to sexual dimorphism (where members of the same species appear different depending on sex) rather than the existence of two distinct species as was thought until now.

This, however, needs further investigation to confirm.

“Pterosaurs were already mind-blowing before, but this new specimen, with its huge, awkward crest and long neck, is mind-boggling because – sort of like [flashy] peacock tails – they would have made him an attractive mate, but an easy target for predators and a poor flyer,” Beccari told New Scientist.

“Like the peacock, it probably spent its time eating fruit off the ground or using its long neck to grab food from higher bushes.”

The illegal export of insightful fossils like this one is a huge problem for Brazil.

Luckily, police found it before the fossil vanished into the world of private collectors, so that scientists could properly examine it and share this ancient marvel with us all.

The fossil was described in PLOS One.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 06:51:24 +0000

How Often Should You Exercise to Get in Shape, According to Science?

Elite athletes – like Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won gold for the men’s 1,500 meter race at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – train almost ten to 14 times per week, clocking up numerous hours on the track and in the gym. But for the rest of us, getting into shape does not necessarily mean such an arduous regime.

How often you should train depends on a lot of different factors – such as your training goals, the intensity of your exercise and any history of injury you may have. The type of training you do can also determine how often you need to exercise.

Exercise stresses different systems in our body. This stress causes fatigue, but also leads to “adaptations” (improvements) specific to the stress we’ve experienced.

For example, while resistance training (such as weight lifting) helps us build muscular strength, it’s less likely to improve our cardiovascular fitness because it puts more stress on our skeletal muscles than it does our heart.

But improvements only happen with a combination of recovery and repetition. If we don’t repeat the training stress, improvements will be lost. We also need to give our body enough time – but not too much time – between training sessions to recover and “adapt”.

In short, the key to improving fitness is to train consistently, which means striking a balance between exercising and recovering enough.

To complicate matters, some body systems take longer to recover than others. For example, exercise that stresses the body’s nervous system – such as sprinting, high-intensity interval training, or very heavy resistance training – will take longer to recover from than a lower-intensity session – such as a gentle jog that primarily stresses the heart and lungs.

This means that depending on what type of training you do, you may need to exercise more or less than you think.

Endurance exercise

When training for endurance events, doing regular, low-intensity workouts are useful. Regularly training at this intensity helps the body use oxygen more effectively, and over time makes it easier to exercise at the same intensity.

In fact, successful endurance runners tend to perform most (about 80 percent of their training) at low intensities, with higher-intensity sessions planned carefully – often two to three times per week, with a minimum of 48 hours between them. This also helps athletes recover better and avoid injury between training sessions.

Skill-based sports

Many sports, including swimming, tennis and martial arts, require combinations of physical and technical skill. While more research is needed in this area, it’s generally thought that consistent and purposeful practice improves performance for these types of sports.

For example, swim coaches value high-volume, low-intensity training (focusing on technique) to enable their swimmers to move more efficiently and easily through the water. But when we do the same type of training repeatedly, overuse injuries can happen, so it might be best to vary the training stress to help the body recover – so balance intense days with easier training days and recovery days.

High-intensity activities (such as sprinting or practicing a tennis serve) can change the central and peripheral nervous systems – both thought to be important for improving skill. But these activities can only be maintained for a short period at the required intensity – so to avoid injury, it’s important to only do a little each training session, but practice consistently over time.

In short, training “smarter” not harder is key in both endurance sports and skill-based sports.

Resistance training

When it comes to building muscle, doing more training sessions a week results in greater gains in muscular strength. This is probably because more training volume leads to greater increases in both muscle size and strength. But rest and recovery (including proper nutrition) are still crucial in helping muscles increase in size.

Generally, it’s recommended that muscle-strengthening exercises are performed on two or more days per week to improve muscle and bone health. If increasing muscle size is your goal, working different muscle groups on different days can help ensure you are still challenging your muscles enough to build strength, while giving yourself enough time to recover between workouts.

But while performing more days of resistance training is beneficial, even just one day per week is effective in improving strength. Whole body movements, such as squats and lunges, performed with correct technique, can be great for developing strength.

It’s also worth noting that exercising at your absolute maximum until you can’t lift any more repetitions on a given exercise – known as lifting to failure – provides no additional benefits for improving strength. Indeed, it may be more beneficial for building strength to leave a little bit in reserve.

Health and fitness

For the average person trying to get in shape, the most important thing isn’t necessarily how much exercise you do, but the quality of that exercise.

For example, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) show promise for improving fitness and health. This involves performing exercises at maximum effort for a short period of time, followed by a period of rest.

A recent study showed doing four to seven bouts of intense, one-minute exercises with 75 seconds of rest between three times a week improved fitness and mental wellbeing. So for people who don’t regularly exercise, less than 30 minutes per week could be beneficial.

Whether you should exercise more or less often depends on many things – including how often you’re able, your training goals and the intensity of the exercise you’re doing.

We recommended trying to vary the kind of training you do within a week, and allow enough recovery between intense or resistance training days – including at least one recovery day a week. But overall, the most effective training program is the one that you maintain consistently over a long period of time. The Conversation

Matthew Wright, Lecturer in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, Teesside University and Jonathan Taylor, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise, Teesside University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 06:19:23 +0000

7,200-Year-Old Human DNA With Unique Denisovan Ancestry Has Been Found in Indonesia

The skeleton of an ancient woman, discovered in an Indonesian cave in 2015, appears to have ancestry unlike any other human found to date. Her remains have now provided archaeologists with a rare glimpse of the earliest settlers to leave mainland Asia and begin the journey to New Guinea and Australia.

The roughly 7,200-year-old human, nicknamed Bessé’, belonged to a culture of hunter-gatherers known as Toaleans, thought to have been related to the earliest settlers of Indonesia. Up to 65,000 years ago, during the last ice age, the ancestors of Toaleans probably arrived via sea from mainland Asia.

While the Toalean culture never seemed to make it past the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, it seems their relatives continued to push onward.

At least, that’s what the inner ear bone of this Toalean woman suggests. Her ancient skull has now provided the first human DNA ever discovered in Wallacea – the ancient island region that once provided a gateway to New Guinea and Australia.

""A map showing the location of Wallacea and where Bessé’ was discovered. (Carlhoff et al., Nature, 2021)

“These seafaring hunter-gatherers were the earliest inhabitants of Sahul, the supercontinent that emerged during the Pleistocene (Ice Age) when global sea levels fell, exposing a land bridge between Australia and New Guinea,” explains archaeologist Adam Brumm from Griffith University in Australia.

“To reach Sahul, these pioneering humans made ocean crossings through Wallacea, but little about their journeys is known.” 

Today, archaeologists argue over where Toaleans first came from and when they arrived in Wallacea. The few tools and artifacts that remain from their long-ago culture seem to be confined to a very small slice of the Indonesian island, which suggests the culture was quite small and isolated.

The skull of Bessé’ is one of the few pieces of evidence left. Careful genomic analysis reveals this 17- to 18-year-old Toalean forager has a genetic makeup different to every other early human studied to date. She appears to be some ancient in-between, stranded on an island between two supercontinents.

Bessé’ shares roughly half her genetic makeup with modern Indigenous Australians, as well as people from New Guinea and the Western Pacific islands, which suggests her ancestors continued island-hopping past Sulawesi.

Interestingly enough, however, Bessé’ shares no apparent ancestry with modern humans living on the island. Researchers think Neolithic farmers from what is now Taiwan began replacing the small Sulawesi culture roughly 3,500 years ago. By the 5th century CE, the society had faded into mere memory.

“The discovery of Bessé’ and the implications of her genetic ancestry show just how little we understand about the early human story in our region, and how much more there is left to uncover,” says Brumm.

For instance, the Toalean woman appears to have substantial genes of Denisovan ancestry. This provides strong evidence that there was significant cross-over between early modern humans and Denisovans in Asia – similar to the crossover of Neanderthals and modern humans in Europe.

This mixing of genes either occurred prior to the settlement of Wallacea on the mainland or somewhere in the Pacific itself.

Other islands nearby Sulawesi have revealed ancient hunter-gatherers with no apparent Denisovan ancestry, which suggests Sulawesi or some other Wallacean island might have been a crucial place where archaic and modern humans mixed their genes.

“The apparent presence of a long-established population of archaic hominins in southwestern Sulawesi provides a possible source for the introgression event,” the authors write.

“Two previous studies have suggested that two deeply divergent Denisovan lineages admixed into the ancestors of Papuan individuals, but our genomic data currently do not have enough resolution to distinguish among one or multiple introgression pulses.”

From what we can tell right now, the ancestors in Papua New Guinea don’t seem to have as high a percentage of Denisovan-derived genes as the Toalean woman. This suggests that Denisovan genes became diluted the further humans journeyed away from Asia.

But that’s just an idea. We need far more genetic evidence before we can begin to properly trace the history of human migration across Asia Pacific.

Bessé’, after all, was just one woman.

The study was published in Nature.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 01:42:39 +0000

We Could Discover Alien Life on This New Class of ‘Hycean’ Exoplanets, Study Says

We Could Discover Alien Life on This New Class of 'Hycean' Exoplanets, Study Says

When we search for life out there in the galaxy, we base our efforts on what we know. So far, we know only one planet that has yielded life – ours – so we look for Earth-like, rocky worlds at a specific distance range from the host star for livable temperatures.

That doesn’t mean life doesn’t exist on planets less like Earth, though. Now, a team of astronomers has identified a class of planets that may prove fruitful – exoplanets clad in a global ocean, with atmospheres rich in hydrogen, could host life as we know it.

Such exoplanets are more numerous in planetary surveys than rocky ones, which means they could be fertile territory in the search for alien life. The researchers have dubbed them ‘Hycean’ worlds.

“Some of the conditions in the oceans of these worlds could be similar to habitable conditions in Earth’s oceans, i.e. similar temperatures and pressures, presence of liquid water and energy from the star,” astronomer Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy told ScienceAlert.

“There are many open questions but this is only a first guess at this stage. The assumption is that if microbial aquatic life can form in these oceans in the same manner as they did on Earth then some of the biosignatures may also be common.”

To date, nearly 4,500 exoplanets have been identified and confirmed out there, in the wider Milky Way. Data from the Kepler planet-hunting space telescope suggest that the most common type of exoplanet is one that we don’t even have in the Solar System – mini-Neptunes, from about 1.6 up to 4 times the radius of Earth.

These are, obviously, smaller than our ice giant Neptune, but above the threshold between rocky planets and gaseous ones. This size and composition results in a thick atmosphere rich in hydrogen, like Neptune, and possibly a liquid ocean beneath it.

Previous research suggested that the pressure on these worlds would be too high to support life as we know it. But last year, Madhusudhan and colleagues published a paper on the mini-Neptune K2-18b. They found a range of conditions under which this world could, in fact, be habitable after all.

Now they’ve expanded on that previous research, defining the parameters under which mini-Neptunes could support life.

Hycean worlds, Madhusudhan and his team found, can be up to 2.6 times the size of Earth, and up to 10 times Earth’s mass. They also have a much larger range of distances from their host star at which life could survive – what we call the habitable zone. Hycean exoplanets can be so close to their star that atmospheric temperatures reach nearly 200 degrees Celsius (nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit), or at distances at which a rocky planet would be too icy.

“The greenhouse warming due to molecular hydrogen (H2) is such that the planet can be very far from the star and still have warm habitable conditions on the surface,” Madhusdhan explained.

“For an Earth-like atmosphere, on the other hand, the main greenhouse gases like H2O and CO2 freeze out at shorter distances, making the surface frozen and not habitable.”

Because of this wide habitable zone, there’s large variety even within the category of ‘Hycean’ planets.

Worlds so close to their stars as to be tidally locked, with one side always facing the star, would be classed as ‘dark Hycean’ exoplanets, where life could only survive on the night side, away from the heat and radiation. ‘Cold Hycean’ worlds would be those at higher distances, where they would receive relatively little light, warmth and radiation.

The definition of these parameters means that future work can look at the atmospheres of such worlds to try and identify biosignatures – compounds in the atmosphere that could be signs of life.

These include ozone, oxygen and methane, but on Hycean worlds, which don’t have as much atmospheric oxygen, other compounds, such as methyl chloride and dimethyl sulphide, could signal the presence of life.

“Essentially, when we’ve been looking for these various molecular signatures, we have been focusing on planets similar to Earth, which is a reasonable place to start,” Madhusudhan said in a press statement.

“But we think Hycean planets offer a better chance of finding several trace biosignatures.”

In their paper, the team laid out a few such biomarkers that we might expect to see on Hycean worlds. These can be detected when an exoplanet passes between us and its star, when certain wavelengths of light in the spectrum are boosted or blocked by the atmosphere.

Where these wavelengths fall is a chemical signature that tells us what element or compound causes that effect.

Because mini-Neptunes have such thick atmospheres, this should be easier to accomplish than with the thinner atmospheres of rocky planets. The James Webb Space Telescope, launching later this year, will be able to perform this task very well, but several other instruments that are currently operating would be able to perform scouting observations to establish, for example, the presence of water in a mini-Neptune atmosphere.

Meanwhile, while waiting for telescope time, there is also more theoretical work that needs to be undertaken. But it looks extremely promising.

“This is a fundamentally new avenue in our search for life elsewhere and holds significant promise for detecting life on an exoplanet on a few-year timescale,” Madhusudhan told ScienceAlert.

The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 02:44:02 +0000

Here’s The Real Meaning of ‘Comirnaty’, The Strange Name Pfizer Gave Their Vaccine

Here's The Real Meaning of 'Comirnaty', The Strange Name Pfizer Gave Their Vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine got full Food and Drug Administration approval on Monday – and the agency also approved the vaccine’s official name, Comirnaty, pronounced koe-mir-na-tee.

Comirnaty is a carefully chosen mashup of COVID-19, messenger RNA, community, and immunity, according to the company that came up with the name.

Scott Piergrossi, the president of operations and communications at the Brand Institute, a drug-naming company, said Comirnaty was “coined from COVID-19 immunity,” per Fierce Pharma, with the middle section representing the mRNA-based technology behind the vaccine.

“So that’s the Co- prefix, followed by the mRNA in the middle, and ending with the -ty suffix, which nods to both community and immunity,” he said.

As a whole, “the name is meant to evoke the word community,” he said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said when the name was first adopted by the European Medicines Agency in December that it was chosen to highlight the “first authorization of an mRNA vaccine as well as the joint global efforts that made that achievement possible.”

It’s not easy getting a name rubber-stamped by the FDA, which details its requirements in a 42-page document.

Drug names should be memorable, not easily confused with other medicines, and easily spelled. They’re allowed to refer to the drug’s technology, such as mRNA, but not to any active ingredients.

Other names that Pfizer and BioNTech filed to the US Patent and Trademark Office included Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, and RNXtract.

Piergrossi told Fierce Pharma that “ultimately the formula for success in naming is a strong distinctive name with meaning that over time will hopefully [come to] stand for or symbolize the hope and innovation that the underlying product itself is for.”

But not everyone is convinced Comirnaty does the trick.

Dr. Nick Mark, a pulmonary- and critical-care physician in Seattle, said on Twitter on Monday: “I feel like the brainstorm session that came up with the name ‘Comirnaty’ either ended too soon or went on way too long.”

Ben Wakana, a member of the White House’s COVID-19 response team, joked on Twitter on Monday: “The correct pronunciation of Comirnaty is: “keepz-u-out-of-the-hospital-saves-UR-life-protects-your-community.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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Published at Thu, 26 Aug 2021 00:21:05 +0000

This New Panoramic Tour of Mars Is The Perfect Escape Right Now

Winter has cleared the air of dust on Mars, allowing the Curiosity Rover to take a stunning panorama of its alien surroundings.

On July 3, while rolling up the slope of Mount Sharp, a tall mountain in the center of the Gale Crater, Curiosity stopped to let its cameras sweep the scene.

The rover has now reached a height of roughly 460 meters (1,500 ft) above its landing site. From up here, you can see through the rover’s ‘eyes’ all the way to the edge of the crater, more than 32 kilometers away (20 miles).

The 360-degree view, made up of 129 individual images, encompasses a variety of landscapes, including rippled volcanic sand, clay-rich rocks and sulfate-rich rocks – all of which hold secrets about how the red planet might have once lost its water.

For nine years, Curiosity has been exploring the varied terrain of Gale Crater, which some scientists suspect is a dried out lake bed, more than 3.5 billion years old. At its center, the peak of Aeolis Mons – also known as Mount Sharp – towers some 5.5 kilometers (18,000 ft) above the crater floor.

After a steady climb, the rover now stands at the transition between clay-rich rocks in the basin, which indicate a history of moisture, and salty minerals on the rim, which indicate drier conditions.

In the panorama, you can see the very spot where the rover collected its 32nd rock sample.

26141 E1 PIA24764 webThe 32 rock samples to date, drilled for by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

“The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened,” explains Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project leader at NASA.

In a tour of the panorama, Fraeman points out a blanket of knobbly, sulfate-rich rocks, which she and her colleagues suspect were created by flowing groundwater. 

She also zooms in on a series of hills higher up, which appear far more rounded than other ridges seen in the crater. This suggests they were eroded in different ways, which requires further investigation.

Soon enough, Curiosity will stand in the valley beneath one rounded hill as tall as a four-story building. Fraeman anticipates some great images and even more rock samples will be collected there.

Analyzing the chemicals and minerals found in Martian rocks can reveal important clues about how this ancient environment could have dried up, and whether, at any point, there was enough water to support microbial life. We can’t wait to learn more.

Published at Wed, 25 Aug 2021 11:10:01 +0000

More And More Humans Are Growing an Extra Artery, Showing We’re Still Evolving

Picturing how our species might appear in the far future often invites wild speculation over stand-out features such as height, brain size, and skin complexion. Yet subtle shifts in our anatomy today demonstrate how unpredictable evolution can be.

Take something as mundane as an extra blood vessel in our arms, which going by current trends could be common place within just a few generations.

An artery that temporarily runs down the center of our forearms while we’re still in the womb isn’t vanishing as often as it used to, according to researchers from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide in Australia.

That means there are more adults than ever with what amounts to be an extra channel of vascular tissue flowing under their wrist.

“Since the 18th century, anatomists have been studying the prevalence of this artery in adults and our study shows it’s clearly increasing,” Flinders University anatomist Teghan Lucas said in 2020.

“The prevalence was around 10 percent in people born in the mid-1880s compared to 30 percent in those born in the late 20th century, so that’s a significant increase in a fairly short period of time, when it comes to evolution.”

The median artery forms fairly early in development in all humans, transporting blood down the center of our arms to feed our growing hands.

""Three major arteries in the forearm – median in the center. (ilbusca/Digital Vision Vectors/Getty Images)

At around eight weeks, it usually regresses, leaving the task to two other vessels – the radial (which we can feel when we take a person’s pulse) and the ulnar arteries.

Anatomists have known for some time that this withering away of the median artery isn’t a guarantee. In some cases, it hangs around for another month or so.

Sometimes we’re born with it still pumping away, feeding either just the forearm, or in some cases the hand as well.

To compare the prevalence of this persistent blood channel, Lucas and colleagues Maciej Henneberg and Jaliya Kumaratilake from the University of Adelaide examined 80 limbs from cadavers, all donated by Australians of European descent.

The donors raged from 51 to 101 on passing, which means they were nearly all born in the first half of the 20th century.

Noting down how often they found a chunky median artery capable of carrying a good supply of blood, the research team compared the figures with records dug out of a literature search, taking into account tallies that could over-represent the vessel’s appearance. Their results were published in 2020 in the Journal of Anatomy.

The fact the artery seems to be three times as common in adults today as it was more than a century ago is a startling find that suggests natural selection is favoring those who hold onto this extra bit of bloody supply.

“This increase could have resulted from mutations of genes involved in median artery development or health problems in mothers during pregnancy, or both actually,” says Lucas.

We might imagine having a persistent median artery could give dexterous fingers or strong forearms a dependable boost of blood long after we’re born. Yet having one also puts us at a greater risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, an uncomfortable condition that makes us less able to use our hands.

Nailing down the kinds of factors that play a major role in the processes selecting for a persistent median artery will require a lot more sleuthing.

Whatever they might be, it’s likely we’ll continue to see more of these vessels in coming years.

“If this trend continues, a majority of people will have median artery of the forearm by 2100,” said Lucas.

This rapid rise of the median artery in adults isn’t unlike the reappearance of a knee bone called the fabella, which is also three times more common today than it was a century ago.

As small as these differences are, tiny microevolutionary changes add up to large-scale variations that come to define a species.

Together they create new pressures themselves, putting us on new paths of health and disease that right now we might find hard to imagine today.

This research was published in the Journal of Anatomy.

A version of this article was originally published in October 2020.

Published at Wed, 25 Aug 2021 15:00:01 +0000

Neuroscientists Detect Remarkable ‘Brain Waves’ in Lab-Grown Mini Brains

Neuroscientists Detect Remarkable 'Brain Waves' in Lab-Grown Mini Brains

Artificially grown organoids are becoming more and more important in scientific and medical research. Now, scientists have measured activity similar to actual brain waves in lab-grown brain organoids while researching a genetic condition that causes seizures.

Such organoids can be useful for researching brain development, diseases, and potential therapies, because they can be involved in experiments that just wouldn’t be possible with a living human brain.

In the new study, researchers reported patterns of electrical activity closely matching a seizure in brain organoids developed from the stem cells of patients with Rett syndrome – a genetic condition that can result in seizures in some cases.

“This work demonstrates that we can make organoids that resemble real human brain tissue and can be used to accurately replicate certain features of human brain function and disease,” says neuroscientist Bennett Novitch, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

To create organoids, scientists induce cells taken from humans to turn into pluripotent stem cells, a type of cell than grow into a wide variety of tissues and organs.

The process is particularly difficult in the brain, because there’s so much going on. To be helpful for more types of research, besides getting all those neurons organized, these ‘mini brain’ organoids must also develop the same neural oscillations that occur in the human brain – waves similar to those associated with learning, sleep, and so on.

Now those waves have been spotted, increasing the likelihood that organoids can stand in for real brains in experimental research. In many neural diseases, the actual brain cells themselves look fine – it’s the oscillations that indicate that something is wrong.

Using electrical probes and microscope readings, the researchers gave their newly created organoids something similar to an electroencephalogram (EEG) scan, revealing multiple kinds of neural oscillations.

“I hadn’t anticipated the range of oscillation patterns we would see,” says Novitch. “By learning how to control which oscillation patterns an organoid exhibits, we may be able to eventually model different brain states.”

In the case of the abnormal oscillations seen in the organoids developed from people with Rett syndrome, adding the experimental drug Pifithrin-alpha removed the signs of seizures – so these organoids are able to ‘respond’ to treatment too. Throughout, the brain cells themselves looked normal, which is also the case with Rett syndrome.

It’s another step forward for brain organoid technology and science, which continues to progress at a rapid pace. Only last week we saw a study outlining how eye structures had evolved in a mini brain grown in the lab, for example.

While brain organoids will never match the complexity or detail of actual brains, they could eventually replace animals in future studies, as long as we’re sure these clumps of specially developed cells are close enough to what really happens in the brain.

“This is one of the first tangible examples of drug testing in action in a brain organoid,” says neurologist Ranmal Samarasinghe, from UCLA.

“We hope it serves as a stepping stone toward a better understanding of human brain biology and brain disease.”

The research has been published in Nature Neuroscience.

Published at Wed, 25 Aug 2021 13:30:01 +0000