New Genome Studies – Neanderthals Contributed to Our Genome

Image taken from Gibbons Article in Science Magazine (Vol 343 31st Jan 2014 p.471)

Image taken from Gibbons Article in Science Magazine (Vol 343 31st Jan 2014 p.471)

A recent article from the BBC mentions two studies looking at the Neanderthal genome and it’s influence over present day non-African genes. This strongly indicates that interbreeding did exist between the different species and some fertile offspring had been produced, although the descendents became less fertile over time.

By studying the genome neanderthal versions of genes were present including a gene variant associated with the difficulty to stop smoking. Other genes appeared to give humans an advantage to the cooler conditions including proteins to toughen the skin and hair. However there was also evidence to show that the Neanderthals passed on gene markers that increased and decreased the risk of Crohn’s disease.

More a more detailed review can be found in Science Magazine which is definitely worth a read. See below for the full citations for the genome studies.

A genome sequence of a Neanderthal showing interbreeding:

Prufer, K., F. Racimo, et al. (2014). “The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains.” Nature 505(7481): 43-49.

Neanderthal genes in modern humans, including contribution to skin pigmentation:

Vernot, B. and J. M. Akey (2014). “Resurrecting Surviving Neandertal Lineages from Modern Human Genomes.” Science.

World’s Oldest-known Living Cancer Dates back 11,000 years

By sequencing the genome of canine transmissible venereal cancer (CTVT) researchers Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have identified the oldest known living cancer. This cancer arose in a single dog and has survived ever since. By decoding this rare cancer and identifying a certain type of mutation could be used as a ‘molecular clock’ to give an origin of 11,000 years ago. Previous studies have estimated that CTVT is between 200 and 70,000 years old, providing a date of origin much older than originally thought.

In addition to the age of the cancer the phenotype of the founder animal was also investigated. Previous analyses were not able to distinguish between a wolf or an ancient-breed dog origin but by comparing genotypes it was indicated that the animal was likely to have been a dog closely clustered with Alaskan malamutes and huskies. This animal was likely to have had a dark coat and be of medium-large size. It also carried alleles which have been linked to dog domestication.

Read the BBC article here and for the original article from Science here.

If you’re interested in other aspects of domestic dog’s evolution head over to my ‘Skull of the Month’ page!

Archaeological Evidence for Dog Domestication – A Quick Look

Double Dog Burial. Image taken from Vellanoweth et al. (2008)

Double Dog Burial. Image taken from Vellanoweth et al. (2008)

A new page added for my skull of the month – the domestic dog. This page quickly discusses some of the archaeological evidence for dog domestication. Have a look here!

Stone Throwing as a Sexual Display in Capuchin Monkeys – That’s One Way to get his Attention!

Figure 1. from paper.  Stills from video recordings, showing moments of two throwing events.

Figure 1. from paper. Stills from video recordings, showing moments of two throwing events.

Through a report on the BBC website I came across this article about female Capuchin monkeys throwing rocks at males to get their attention in order to mate. It’s quite an interesting article and touches on the other forms of tool use that the monkeys use.

I don’t think I would start throwing rocks at men though!

Falótico T, Ottoni EB (2013) Stone Throwing as a Sexual Display in Wild Female Bearded Capuchin Monkeys, Sapajus libidinosus. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79535. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079535

BBC Radio – The Infinite Monkey: Science Communication

I have just listened to the Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC iplayer, the final episode of series 9. I really enjoy this program, really insightful with funny and intelligent guests discussing different aspects of science. This episode focused on Science Communication and whether it is important and how it has changed over time. The basic answer is yes it’s important but it’s changed a lot and there’s still more to do.

I personally think it’s very important to try and get science across to the masses and public and I certainly want to share my knowledge with others (hence this blog!) and I want to keep learning things. I can see that if people have a bad experience with science, e.g. at school, like with anything it might be harder to get them involved or interested – but that’s not to say we can’t try! I would like to see more science based documentaries on TV, exploring all different types of science. Luckily many scientists and enthusiasts want to share their knowledge and with the ability to create pod casts and websites it is easier for them to do this. However, I definitely agree with the statement James Burke, a science historian and guest on this episode, said that TV programs should never ‘ask what the audience wants, but give it what it needs’. (Listen at around 25mintues on the broadcast). I thought this was great I definitely would stand this!

Find the episode here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03m43fx

Ancient Human Occupation of Britain – BBC Radio

A half hour program on BBC Radio 4. Professor Alice Roberts discusses the how and who inhabited ancient Britain. She talks to Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, Nick Ashton of the British Museum, Professor Danielle Schreve from the Royal Holloway and Rob Dinnis about carbon dating.

Find the episode on BBC iplayer here and to find out more about the AHOB (Ancient Human Occupation of Britain) team you can find their website here.

How the Dead Could Help Cure the Future

Anthropologists in Italy have been excavating an abandoned medieval church and have uncovered skeletons which date from the Medieval period running through to the mid-1800s. From these skeletons the DNA is going to be extracted from their teeth and analysis carried out on soil from their stomach area. Why do this? The researchers are hoping to gain more knowledge into the bacteria which caused the Black Death as a very similar strain of the bacteria, Yersinia pestis, still exists in some small rodents in parts of the world today. They want to know why the bacteria moved from rodent to humans and what made the plague spread so quickly in the 14oos.

In another grave, dating to a later period, a mass grave was discovered where the individuals looked to have been buried in a rush. One skeleton in particular was of interest to the researchers as she was the perfect specimen as nearly every bone was in-tact. Again the researchers want to know what killed so many people and why they were buried so hastily. Currently the hypothesis is cholera and now they want to trace the evolution of the disease. 

By conducting research into the dead’s DNA modern medicine may be improved and new vaccines or medicines may be created. This is the reason why we must conduct research on our dead – they are amazing and insightful specimens which may help the future human population.

Go to the official ‘The Thousand-Year Graveyard’ site here: http://spark.sciencemag.org/the-thousand-year-graveyard