Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Merry Medical Christmas! 2010


  1. Human enzyme breaks down potentially toxic nanomaterials
  2. Printed cells to treat burn victims
  3. Arsenic used to treat leukemia
  4. First evidence that chitosan could repair spinal damage
  5. Building organs block by block: Tissue engineers create a new way to assemble artificial tissues
  6. Scientists discover new method for regenerating heart muscle by direct reprogramming
  7. Eliminating tooth decay: Breakthrough in dental plaque research
Today's news are simply WOW :) Many great news on the medical front. I hope that they won't be only short-lived sensation, but also very real medical options in the near future. Happy holidays, everyone!

Human enzyme breaks down potentially toxic nanomaterials

April 7, 2010
An international study based at the University of Pittsburgh provides the first identification of a human enzyme that can biodegrade carbon nanotubes—the superstrong materials found in products from electronics to plastics—and in laboratory tests offset the potentially damaging health effects of being exposed to the tiny components, according to findings published online in Nature Nanotechnology.
The results could open the door to the use of carbon nanotubes as a safe drug-delivery tool and also could lead to the development of a natural treatment for people exposed to nanotubes, either in the environment or the workplace, the team reported. The researchers found that carbon nanotubes degraded with the human enzyme myeloperoxidase (hMPO) did not produce the lung inflammation that intact nanotubes have been shown to cause. Furthermore, neutrophils, the that contain and emit hMPO to kill invading microorganisms, can be directed to attack carbon nanotubes specifically.
For the current study, the researchers focused on human MPO because it works via the release of strong acids and oxidants—similar to the chemicals used to break down carbon nanotubes. They first incubated short, single-walled nanotubes in an hMPO and hydrogen peroxide solution—the hydrogen peroxide sparks and sustains hMPO activity—for 24 hours, after which the structure and bulk of the tube had completely degenerated. The nanotubes degenerated even faster when sodium chloride was added to the solution to produce hypochlorite, a strong oxidizing compound known to break down nanotubes.After establishing the effectiveness of hMPO in degrading carbon nanotubes, the team developed a technique to prompt to attack nanotubes by capturing them and exposing them to the enzyme. They implanted a sample of nanotubes with antibodies known as immunoglobulin G (IgG), which made them specific neutrophil targets. After 12 hours, 100 percent of IgG nanotubes were degraded versus 30 percent of those without IgG.
In subsequent laboratory tests, lung tissue exposed to the degraded nanotubes for seven days exhibited negligible change when compared to unexposed tissue. On the other hand, tissue exposed to untreated nanotubes developed severe inflammation. source
My comment: That's actually very interesting article for more than one reason. First, the disposal of nanoparticles is very important for obvious reason - nano materails are used in so many product on the market, their accumulation is obviously dangerous. So understanding the way the body handles nanoparticles and reinforcing it is obviously essential. Another thing I find very curious is the use of hydrogen peroxide. Why I find it odd is because hydrogen peroxide is famous for its use as some kind of cure. Some people say it works. The question for me is why. And here we see one explanation. The hydrogen peroxide strengthen the work of hMPO which kills microorganisms. Interesting.

Printed cells to treat burn victims

April 12, 2010 by Lin Edwards

( -- A medical device that works rather like an inkjet printer is being developed in the US to heal burns and other wounds by "printing" skin cells directly onto the wound. The device, called a bioprinter, may reduce the need for skin grafts. It would be mounted on a wheeled frame and positioned over the bed of the patient.
A laser inside the bioprinter, which was developed at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, first measures the size and shape of the wound and then applies specific precisely where they are needed. The skin cell spray is produced by dissolving from pieces of skin and then separating cell types such as keratinocytes and fibroblasts. The purified cells are then incubated in a nutrient solution where they multiply. They are then placed into sterilized cartridges and sprayed onto the wound by a similar process to a multi-color , with the fibroblasts sprayed on first followed by a layer of keratinocytes. The sprayed-on cells form a protective shield for the wound.
The device has so far only been tested on mice, but the initial results show wounds heal quickly and safely, with wounds healing three weeks faster than those that were untreated. Professor of regenerative medicine at the University, George Christ, said the group would next test the device on pigs, who have skin resembling human skin. They will eventually apply for approval from the US to allow them to carry out human trials. source
My comment: Wow! That's pretty cool if you ask me. Especially for people with severe burns. 3 weeks difference is extremely serious. If I remember correctly, my burn wounds needed more than a month to heal properly. I spent like a week or two in hospital for treatment. So 3 weeks makes a lot of difference! I wish them quick and safe journey to human trials.

Arsenic used to treat leukemia

April 12, 2010 by Lin Edwards

( -- Arsenic, known in the West mainly as a poison, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for around two thousand years for the treatment of conditions such as syphilis and psoriasis. It has also been shown to have a substantial anti-cancer effect for a type of leukemia, but until now no one has known the mechanism for this effect. Now scientists in China have discovered arsenic targets proteins that contribute to the growth of cancer cells.
The group found that arsenic trioxide (As2O3) acts by promoting the degradation of a protein that encourages the growth of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) cells, although a detailed mechanism of how it works has yet to be established.
It was already known that a fusion protein called PML-RARalpha is produced as a result of a genetic mutation in APL, and this protein is essential to the growth and survival of the . When arsenic trioxide is present, a known as SUMO tags the fusion protein, which is then destroyed. When the protein is destroyed, the cancer cell can no longer survive. What the new research demonstrated was that As2O3 binds to a part of the protein called a zinc finger, which is rich in cysteine residues. As a result several protein molecules join together to form an insoluble protein, and the aggregate is then bound by SUMO, which destroys it.
APL affects the blood and bone marrow, and causes a drop in production of normal and platelets. Now, as a result of treating APL with arsenic in China, over 90 per cent of patients survive at least five years with no signs of the disease.
Arsenic treatment has an advantage over chemotherapy because there is a lower incidence of side effects such as hair loss and suppression of the immune system. Many other countries now use arsenic in the treatment of APL, but some doctors refuse to recommend it, and some patients refuse to accept it because of its reputation as a poison. source
My comment:Wow! 90% of the people survived without a sign of the disease Because if something works like this, it's obviously good. and people hesitate before taking such treatment?! Are they crazy? Or are they greedy! I mean health insurance companies, of course, not patients. Because for me, the only reason why a patient won't try a treatment promising so much is if s/he is advised so by a doctor. And why a doctor will advice so is a mystery for me!

First evidence that chitosan could repair spinal damage

April 16, 2010
Spinal injuries are some of the most debilitating that anyone can suffer. However, Richard Borgens and his team from the Center for Paralysis Research at the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine can now offer spinal cord damage sufferers some hope. They publish their discovery in the Journal of Experimental Biology that chitosan, a sugar, can target and repair damaged spinal cord nerve membranes and restore nerve function.
(..)Another therapy that is currently undergoing testing is the use of polyethylene glycol (PEG) to seal and repair damaged spinal cord nerve cells. By repairing the damaged membranes of nerve cells, Borgens and his team can restore the spinal cord's ability to transmit signals to the brain. However, there is one possible clinical drawback: PEG's breakdown products are potentially toxic.
Borgens teamed up with physiologist Riyi Shi and chemist Youngnam Cho, who pointed out that some sugars are capable of targeting damaged membranes. Could they find a sugar that restored spinal cord activity as effectively as PEG? Borgens and his team publish their discovery that chitosan can repair damaged nerve cell membranes in The on 16 April 2010.
Next Cho tested whether a dose of chitosan could prevent large molecules from leaking from damaged spinal cord cells. Testing for the presence of the colossal enzyme lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), Borgens admits he was amazed to see that levels of LDH leakage from chitosan treated spinal cord were lower than from undamaged spinal cords. Not only had the sugar repaired membranes at the compression site but also at other sites where the cell membranes were broken due to handling. And when the duo tested for the presence of harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS), released when ATP generating mitochondria are damaged, they found that ROS levels also fell after applying chitosan to the damaged tissue: chitosan probably repairs mitochondrial membranes as well as the nerve cell membranes.
Measuring the brain's response to nerve signals generated in a guinea pig's hind leg, the duo saw that the signals were unable to reach the brain through a damaged spinal cord. However, 30·min after injecting chitosan into the rodents, the signals miraculously returned to the animals' brains. Chitosan was able to repair the damaged spinal cord so that it could carry signals from the animal's body to its brain. source
My comment: Another wow! Simply no comment.

Building organs block by block: Tissue engineers create a new way to assemble artificial tissues

May 13, 2010 by Anne Trafton
( -- Researchers at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) have come up with a new way to overcome that challenge, by encapsulating living cells in cubes and arranging them into 3-D structures, just as a child would construct buildings out of blocks.
The new technique, dubbed "micromasonry," employs a gel-like material that acts like concrete, binding the cell "bricks" together as it hardens.
To obtain single cells for , researchers have to first break tissue apart, using enzymes that digest the extracellular material that normally holds cells together. However, once the cells are free, it's difficult to assemble them into structures that mimic natural tissue microarchitecture.The HST researchers built their "biological Legos" by encapsulating cells within a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which has many medical uses. Their version of the polymer is a liquid that becomes a gel when illuminated, so when the PEG-coated cells are exposed to light, the polymer hardens and encases the cells in cubes with side lengths ranging from 100 to 500 millionths of a meter.
Once the are in cube form, they can be arranged in specific shapes using templates made of PDMS, a silicon-based polymer used in many . Both template and cell cubes are coated again with the PEG polymer, which acts as a glue that holds the cubes together as they pack themselves tightly onto the scaffold surface.
After the cubes are arranged properly, they are illuminated again, and the liquid holding the cubes together solidifies. When the template is removed, the cubes hold their new structure.
Gomez Fernandez and Khademhosseini used this method to build tubes that could function as capillaries, potentially helping to overcome one of the most persistent problems with engineered organs — lack of an immediate blood supply.
Other researchers have developed a technique called organ printing to create complex 3-D tissues, but that process requires a robotic machine that is not in widespread use. The new technique does not require any special equipment. source
My comment: I'm not sure what the advantage of this technique over scaffolding is but let's say it's progress. I only wonder isn't PEG toxic to the cells as described in the previous article. Because if it is, it must be removed from the organ before it starts functioning.

Scientists discover new method for regenerating heart muscle by direct reprogramming

August 5, 2010 Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) have found a new way to make beating heart cells from the body's own cells that could help regenerate damaged hearts.
In research published in the current issue of Cell, scientists in the laboratory of GICD director Deepak Srivastava, MD, directly reprogrammed structural cells called fibroblasts in the heart to become beating heart cells called cardiomyocytes. In doing so, they also found the first evidence that unrelated adult cells can be reprogrammed from one cell type to another without having to go all the way back to a stem cell state.
The researchers, led by Masaki Ieda, MD, PhD, started off with 14 important for formation of the heart and found that together they could reprogram fibroblasts into cardiomyocyte-like cells. Remarkably, a combination of just three of the factors (Gata4, Mef2c, and Tbx5) was enough to efficiently convert fibroblasts into cells that could beat like cardiomyocytes and turned on most of the same expressed in cardiomyocytes. When transplanted into mouse hearts 1 day after the three factors were introduced, fibroblasts turned into cardiomyocyte-like cells within the beating heart.
"Half of the cells in the heart are fibroblasts, so the ability to call upon this reservoir of cells already in the organ to become beating has tremendous promise for cardiac regeneration." The study results imply that cells in multiple organs within an individual might be directed into necessary cell types to repair defects within the body. source
My comment: Ok, but doesn't the heart need those fibroblasts? I guess this therapy is good only for certain class of heart failures, not for all of them. But hey, it's another progress. Awesome!

Eliminating tooth decay: Breakthrough in dental plaque research

December 7, 2010

Dutch professors Bauke Dijkstra and Lubbert Dijkhuizen have deciphered the structure and functional mechanism of the glucansucrase enzyme that is responsible for dental plaque sticking to teeth. This knowledge will stimulate the identification of substances that inhibit the enzyme. Just add that substance to toothpaste, or even sweets, and caries will be a thing of the past.  
The University of Groningen researchers analysed glucansucrase from the lactic acid bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri, which is present in the human mouth and digestive tract. The bacteria use the glucansucrase enzyme to convert sugar from food into long, sticky sugar chains. They use this glue to attach themselves to . The main cause of , the bacterium Streptococcus mutans, also uses this enzyme. Once attached to tooth enamel, these bacteria ferment sugars releasing acids that dissolve the calcium in teeth. This is how caries develops. source
My comment: I think that any hope for getting rid of caries is pretty far fetched for the moment, but as a person who spends a great deal of time with the dentist, I sincerely wish them luck. I wonder if there isn't some natural way to break this enzymes. Because as we all know, some people eat whatever they like, don't clean their teeth seriously and they still have healthy teeth! There must be a reason for that and I think this is a great way to fight caries. But then, what the poor dentist would do? Oh, don't worry, it's Christmas, so there is a miracle for them too. Purely and simply, not all the dental problem come from caries, so even if we eliminate it, they'll have a way to earn their living. So everybody is happy, now can we forget the word caries?! It's about time, I say! ;)


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Comet catastrophe(s) and Neanderthal sex, 2010


  1. Was a giant comet responsible for a North American catastrophe in 11000 BC?
  2. European-looking mummies found in China, shown in Calif.
  3. 4,200 year-old grave excavation reveals eternal embrace
  4. Indus Valley east theory challenged
  5. Complete Neanderthal genome yields insights into human evolution and evidence of interbreeding
And also few quite interesting shorties in the end. 

    Was a giant comet responsible for a North American catastrophe in 11000 BC?

    April 1, 2010 by Robert Massey
    ( -- 13,000 years ago the Earth was struck by thousands of Tunguska-sized cometary fragments over the course of an hour, leading to a dramatic cooling of the planet, according to astronomer Professor Bill Napier of the Cardiff University Astrobiology Centre.

    The cooling, by as much as 8°C, interrupted the warming which was occurring at the end of the last and caused glaciers to readvance. Evidence has been found that this catastrophic change was associated with some extraordinary extraterrestrial event. The boundary is marked by the occurrence of a "black mat" layer a few centimetres thick found at many sites throughout the United States containing high levels of soot indicative of continental-scale wildfires, as well as microscopic hexagonal diamonds (nanodiamonds) which are produced by shocks and are only found in meteorites or impact craters. These findings led to the suggestion that the catastrophic changes of that time were caused by the impact of an asteroid or 4 km across on the Laurentide ice sheet, which at that time covered what would become Canada and the northern part of the United States.
    The cooling lasted over a thousand years, and its onset coincides with the rapid extinction of 35 genera of North American mammals, as well as the disruption of the Palaeoindian culture. The chief objection to the idea of a big impact is that the odds against the Earth being struck by an asteroid this large only 13,000 years ago are a thousand to one against. And the heat generated by the rising fireball would be limited by the curvature of the horizon and could not explain the continent-wide occurrence of wildfires.
    Professor Napier has now come up with an astronomical model which accounts for the major features of the catastrophe without involving such an improbable event. According to his model, the Earth ran into a dense trail of material from a large disintegrating comet. He points out that there is compelling evidence that such a comet entered the inner planetary system between 20 000 and 30 000 years ago and has been fragmenting ever since, giving rise to a number of closely related meteor streams and comoving asteroids known as the Taurid Complex.
    In the course of the giant comet's disintegration, the Earth would probably have run through at least one dense swarm of cometary material. The new model indicates that such an encounter would last for about an hour during which thousands of impacts would take place over continental dimensions, each releasing the energy of a megaton-class nuclear bomb, generating the extensive wildfires which took place at that time. The nanodiamonds at the extinction boundary would then be explained as having come in with the comet swarm.
    One recent meteorite is known which may have come from this giant comet progenitor: the Tagish Lake meteorite, which fell over Yukon Territory in January 2000. It has the highest abundance of nanodiamonds of any so far analysed. source
    My comment: First of all, the argument that the odds against a big comet hitting the Earth in the last 15000 years are low, is ridiculous. The odds of many things (mostly unpleasant) are very low, but yet they happen. So this cannot be serious argument. What I find for more serious is that from time to time, new evidences of giant impact sites around the world appear. So I personally find it more plausible to believe that we're not speaking of one crash, but of many. Whether it was a comet trail or something artificial is another question, but people very conveniently tend to forget how powerful can actually be such crashes. And for mysterious reasons, every time someone claims to have solved the puzzle, 10 new people appear proving s/he's wrong. But for me, there's no question about whether there were such crashes or not. The only question is what caused them. And why.

    European-looking mummies found in China, shown in Calif.

    Updated 3/19/2010 1:57 PM

    The mummies from western China's arid Tarim Basin are so well-preserved that the viewer can see their intricate clothing and eyelashes, and also that they are distinctly non-Asian in appearance.
    One mummy, affectionately dubbed the "Beauty of Xiaohe"(3,800-years-old!!!) by archaeologists, is so lifelike that she looks as if she's taking a nap. She has fair skin, round eyes, and a felt hat resembling an alpine head covering with a long feather stuck in the top.
    The mummies' Caucasian appearance suggests that Bronze Age nomads speaking Indo-European languages from perhaps Russia and Ukraine brought culture, physical features and genes to parts of western China and may have also been the first to domesticate the horse, says Spencer Wells, who has studied the Tarim mummies.
    Some artifacts found with the mummies, including bronze and sheep bones, hint that Europeans brought technologies such as metallurgy and some domesticated animals to China, which may explain the European appearance of the mummies and suggest that trade between Europe and Asia existed nearly 4,000 years ago, Mair says.
    Mair adds that recent DNA research suggests that men from the West were "linking up with local women, the people in the central part of Asia."
    Although the artifacts imply that trade between Europe and Asia existed during the Bronze Age, the Silk Road, a trade route between different parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, did not formally develop until about 138 B.C., during the Han Dynasty, Mair says.
    The exhibit features not only artifacts from the mummies and the early formation of the Silk Road but also from the first millennium, including intricate silk shoes, Mair says. source
    My comment: Very conveniently, the article omits the age of the mummy and it appears only under the picture of the mummy. But anyway, it's 3 800 years! That's a hell lot! And how does it go with "Although the artifacts imply that trade between Europe and Asia existed during the Bronze Age, the Silk Road (..) did not formally develop until about 138 B.C."  So from one side, we have European mummies, obviously considered important-enough to be buried and preserved like this and from the other side, we claim that although they were there at such early times, there wasn't really serious trade between the East and the West. Also, how did we know they brought the technology to the East and not the other way around? Did we merely assume so, because Europeans were so much more developed than Asians at that time (and what Europeans exactly were there at 3 000 years ago?!!!) or we have some evidences pointing in that direction. Also, the article doesn't mention explicitly what is the genetic original of the mummies. It says "perhaps Russia or Ukraine". Why? What was in Russia or Ukraine during that periods that can point in that direction? Or it just sounds better than thinking who in Europe was advanced enough to trade with Asians. For me, the whole story sounds more like a fairy-tale than actual science. Because people very stubbornly deny the fact that there were many civilization centers on Eurasia, some of which, probably on the Balkans (pelasgians, Thracians and so on)

    4,200 year-old grave excavation reveals eternal embrace

    13:54, March 26, 2010
    In the ruins of a city that was once Rome's neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin.

    Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project---the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.
    The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.
    "We're very excited about this find," Terrenato said. "Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age---the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region."
    This one is especially unusual because of its size.
    "It's a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick," he said. "A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual."
    Human remains encased in lead coffins tend to be well preserved, if difficult to get to. Researchers want to avoid breaking into the coffin. The amount of force necessary to break through the lead would likely damage the contents. Instead, they will first use thermography and endoscopy. Thermography involves heating the coffin by a few degrees and monitoring the thermal response. Bones and any artifacts buried with them would have different thermal responses, Terrenato said. Endoscopy involves inserting a small camera into the coffin. But how well that works depends on how much dirt has found its way into the container over the centuries.
    If these approaches fail, the researchers could turn to an MRI scan---an expensive option that would involve hauling the half-ton casket to a hospital.
    The dig that unearthed this find started in summer 2009 and continues through 2013.
    The site of Gabii, situated on undeveloped land 11 miles east of Rome in modern-day Lazio, was a major city that pre-dates Rome but seems to have waned as the Roman Empire grew.
    sourceMy comment: What I don't understand is why such discovery that may be considered as national treasure for Italy will go to the American Academy for research. I'm not trying to be anti-American with this, but you never know what's hidden in the lead. It could be everything. So why letting it in the hands of foreigners. This discovery belongs to Italy and it should be kept safe. Maybe I sound little paranoid, but in the case, those are simple precautions. Because gold coffins were once found in Bulgaria. And now nobody knows where they are. All that's left from them are the memories of people seeing choppers taking away our national treasure. How about this?

    Indus Valley east theory challenged

    New Delhi, April 5: A study of hundreds of ancient Indus Valley civilisation sites has revealed previously unsuspected patterns of growth and decline that challenge a long-standing idea of a solely eastward-moving wave of Indus urbanisation.
    Researchers at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMS), Chennai, combined data from archaeology, radiocarbon dating, and river flows to study how settlements around the Indus Valley region had evolved from around 7000 BC till 1000 BC.
    Their analysis of 1,874 Indus region settlements has shown that the Indus urbanisation had three epicentres — Mehrgarh in present-day Baluchistan, Gujarat, and sites along an ancient river called the Ghaggar-Hakra in Haryana and Punjab.
    The findings, published in Current Science, a journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences, dispute suggestions by international researchers that farming and urbanisation in the region was driven by a “wave of advance” moving eastward.
    The 7000 BC site at Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, provides the earliest evidence for wheat and barley farming on the Indian subcontinent. But the new study and earlier archaeological data suggest that the Indus civilisation may have picked up rice cultivation from eastern India.
    “This work provides new evidence to suggest that the Indus Valley civilisation had influences from the west and from the east — it was not a one-way west-to-east flow,” said Vasant Shinde, an archaeologist with Deccan College, Pune, who was not associated with the study.
    Shinde said archaeological excavations had pointed to rice cultivation near present-day Gorakhpur in around 7000 BC — the same period as wheat and barley farming in Mehrgarh.
    The analysis by Adhikari and his colleagues shows a dense distribution of Indus Valley sites around 2500 BC which marks the beginning of the mature period of the civilisation — lasting about 600 years until about 1900 BC.
    The researchers believe it is during this period of high stability that the civilisation’s culture matured, leading to its script, the design of seals, and weights and measures. Adhikari said it was still unclear what kind of political organisation contributed to this uniformity in culture.
    The study shows a “catastrophic reduction” in the number of sites in the Ghaggar-Hakra region around 1900 BC.  But the decline around Mehrgarh and Gujarat occurred at a much slower pace.
     Archaeologists say the findings are consistent with the idea that a slow decline of the Indus urbanisaton eventually gave way to the growth of settlements along the Gangetic plain.
    My comment: (Indus-like inscription on South Indian pottery from Thailand) Another very interesting article. It basically gives very early time for beginning of farming in India - basically 9 000 years ago, which is surprisingly near the start of farming in the Fertile crescent 10 000 years ago. If they manage to drive that timing only 1000 years, some theories will be in SERIOUS trouble. Not to my displeasure, of course. Before that, however, that dating should be confirmed properly. Somehow, I don't have doubts that will happen. It makes sense after all. We read article after article, how human development has started earlier and earlier, we have to expect farming to go back too. It's just matter of time. (And more on the historical context of the area, read here: 3,000-year-old history unearthed, archaeologists believe Jajmau mound could be holding more - they found well-organised village of brick-houses with kitchens and bathrooms 3000-4000 years ago. For comparison, the Aryan theory claims the invasion happened around 1700 to 1300 BCE. It's close...very close.

    Complete Neanderthal genome yields insights into human evolution and evidence of interbreeding

    May 6, 2010
    After extracting ancient DNA from the 40,000-year-old bones of Neanderthals, scientists have obtained a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome, yielding important new insights into the evolution of modern humans.
    Among the findings, published in the May 7 issue of Science, is evidence that shortly after early migrated out of Africa, some of them interbred with , leaving bits of Neanderthal scattered through the genomes of present-day non-Africans.
    "We can now say that, in all probability, there was from Neanderthals to modern humans," said the paper's first author, Richard E. (Ed) Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
    The researchers identified a catalog of genetic features unique to modern humans by comparing the Neanderthal, human, and chimpanzee genomes. Genes involved in cognitive development, skull structure, energy metabolism, and skin morphology and physiology are among those highlighted in the study as likely to have undergone important changes in recent human evolution.
    The Neanderthal DNA signal shows up not only in the genomes of Europeans, but also in people from East Asia and Papua New Guinea, where Neanderthals never lived.
    "The scenario is not what most people had envisioned," Green said. "We found the genetic signal of Neanderthals in all the non-African genomes, meaning that the admixture occurred early on, probably in the Middle East, and is shared with all descendants of the early humans who migrated out of Africa."
    The study did not address the functional significance of the finding that between 1 and 4 percent of the genomes of non-Africans is derived from Neanderthals. But Green said there is no evidence that anything genetically important came over from Neanderthals.
    The draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome is composed of more than 3 billion nucleotides--the "letters" of the genetic code (A, C, T, and G) that are strung together in DNA. The sequence was derived from DNA extracted from three Neanderthal bones found in the Vindiga Cave in Croatia; smaller amounts of sequence data were also obtained from three bones from other sites. Two of the Vindiga bones could be dated by carbon-dating of collagen and were found to be about 38,000 and 44,000 years old.
    The Neanderthal bones were not well preserved, and more than 95 percent of the DNA extracted from them came from bacteria and other organisms that had colonized the bone. The DNA itself was degraded into small fragments and had been chemically modified in many places.
    The draft Neanderthal sequence is probably riddled with errors, Green said, but having the human and chimpanzee genomes for comparison makes it extremely useful despite its limitations. Places where humans differ from chimps, while Neanderthals still have the ancestral chimp sequence, may represent uniquely human genetic traits. The evidence for more recent gene flow between Neanderthals and humans came from an analysis showing that Neanderthals are more closely related to some present-day humans than to others. Looking at a diverse set of modern humans--including individuals from Southern Africa, West Africa, Papua New Guinea, China, and Western Europe--the researchers found that the frequency of Neanderthal matches is higher for non-Africans than for Africans.
    According to Green, even a very small number of instances of interbreeding could account for these results. The researchers estimated that the gene flow from Neanderthals to humans occurred between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago. The best explanation is that the admixture occurred when early humans left Africa and encountered Neanderthals for the first time.
     sourceMy comment: Ha ha ha. So much about Neanderthals being THAT different from humans. After all, humans found them similar enough to mate and create offspring, that certainly makes them a lot less animal-like than some scientists want to believe. As for "no important traits were passed from Neanderthals" - they honestly admit they barely scratched the surface of the Neanderthal genome and yet they are so sure as to claim nothing good came from it? Is it pride or prejudice? Or both. I don't quite get what's the origin of the belief Neanderthals didn't have anything valuable to offer to humans, but it sounds very premature and unscientific to me. After all, we don't understand completely even our own genome, how could we know what's valuable or not. It might like like garbage today, it could be extremely important tomorrow. Who knows.
    DNA reveals origins of first European farmers - A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has resolved the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago.
    A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe. - The main question here for me, is why did they decide that German farmers were among the first in Europe. If what they found is correct, then the first farmers were on the way from Turkey to Central Europe. Meaning, on the Balkans. And that's kind of well-known. Again pride and prejudices...

    35,000-year-old axe head places Aboriginal ancestors at the cutting edge of technology - Unearthed from a sandstone cave in a remote part of south-west Arnhem Land (Australia) in May, the basalt axe piece measuring 4 centimetres in length has been radio-carbon dated at 35,000 years old.
    The discovery is significant as it predates by at least 5000 years the oldest known examples of other ground-edge implements from Japan and Australia, which have been dated at 22,000 to 30,000 years old. By comparison, the earliest ground-edge axes from Europe, West Asia and Africa are about 8,500 years old. - I hope you all note the name Australia in the brackets. How did that technology go to Australia so long ago? Very very odd.

    Mycenaean tombs discovered might be evidence of classless society - The team were surprised to find a lack of burial goods in the tombs. The Mycenaean civilization is known for its rich elite burials, but the goods found at Ayia Sotira were modest.
    A third possibility is that these people lived in a classless society – that despite being close to a rich city, the people of this settlement, for whatever reason, had no elites. - 
    Stone Age Scandinavians unable to digest milk - The hunter-gatherers who inhabited the southern coast of Scandinavia 4,000 years ago were lactose intolerant. - I was surprised to know how many people are still lactose intolerant. I wonder how that tolerance developed and why. And how come it spread out so quickly. It's a small miracle...
    'Java Man' takes age to extremes - After convincing most of their colleagues that H. erectus may have persisted on the Indonesian island of Java as recently as 30,000 years ago — late enough to have coexisted in Asia with modern humans for more than 100,000 years — anthropologists presented new analyses April 14 suggesting the fossils in question may actually predate Homo sapiens by hundreds of thousands of years.
    But a new analysis, based on measurements of radioactive argon’s decay in volcanic rock above and below the fossils, puts H. erectus’ age on Java at roughly 550,000 years. It’s not clear why these estimates differ so dramatically and which one is more accurate, Antón said.

    Archeological Findings back to 10th Millennium B.C. - "one of these panels portrayed an eagle with wings spread wide and snake-form sculptures on the two sides. Another panel has an abstract sculpture of three eagle sculptures spreading their wings behind which the sun appears."- wow, that sounds so much Thracian like and Mexico like. Obviously, this motif was very important, so that it could spread across time and space like this. I wonder why...

    Saturday, 27 November 2010

    Miracles of life, 2010


    1. Dolphins learn to 'walk on water'
    2. How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine mammals
    3. Heroic altruistic ants face death alone to save colony
    4. Ravens console each other after fights 
    5. Scientists discover first multicellular life that doesn't need oxygen (!!!)
    6. World's largest, most complex marine virus is major player in ocean ecosystems: researce
    7.  First case of animals making their own carotene
    As you can see today's edition is dedicated to life in all of its forms and complexity. Enjoy!

    Dolphins learn to 'walk on water'

    By Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News 
    Wild dolphins in Australia are naturally learning to "walk" on water.
    Six dolphins have now been seen mastering the technique - furiously paddling their tail fluke, forcing their body out and across the water.
    The dolphins seem to walk on water for fun, as it has no other obvious benefit, say scientists working for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
    That makes the behaviour a rare example of animals "culturally transmitting" a playful rather than foraging behaviour.
    Only a few species are known to create their own culture - defined as the sharing or transmitting of specific novel behaviours or traditions between a community of animals.
    The discovery was made by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) scientist Dr Mike Bossley, who has spent 24 years studying dolphins living in the Port River in Adelaide, Australia.
    In past years, Dr Bossley has witnessed two wild adult female dolphins, named Billie and Wave for research purposes, attempting to walk on water.
    Now four other dolphins, including young infants, have been recorded trying to learn the trick from the two adults, and have been seen practising, less successfully, in the river.
    The behaviour, when a dolphin beats its tail fluke repeatedly, so it lifts its body vertically out of the water and then along the surface, is more commonly seen among captive dolphins trained to perform tricks.
    A composite image showing Bianca the dolphin attempting to tail-walk on 10 Oct, 2010
    A composite image showing Bianca the dolphin attempting to tail-walk on 10 Oct, 2010
    In the wild it is extremely rare.
    My comment: It's absolutely amazing how little we know about non-human intelligence. And I think that this article leave very little place for doubt about the intelligence of dolphins. Because while many species are observed until now to use tools and show creativity when it comes to food, not so much do that just for fun. Although that's not completely truth since I have seen baby goats do tricks just for the fun of it. But then the behavior do not pass over to different generations. The mother goat doesn't show new tricks to her babies. While dolphins do. Which maybe make them unique. Or maybe not. Because the more we observe the subtler demonstration of intelligence we find in all species.

    How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine mammals

    March 8, 2010 By Kevin Spear
    Neuroscientist Lori Marino and a team of researchers explored the brain of a dead killer whale with an MRI and found an astounding potential for intelligence.

    Killer whales, or orcas, have the second-biggest brains among all ocean mammals, weighing as much as 15 pounds. It's not clear whether they are as well-endowed with as humans, but scientists have found they are amazingly well-wired for sensing and analyzing their watery, three-dimensional environment.
    Scientists are trying to better understand how killer whales are able to learn local dialects, teach one another specialized methods of hunting and pass on behaviors that can persist for generations -- longer possibly than seen with any other species except humans.
    These researchers have yet to find evidence that an orca in the wild has ever killed a person.
    Human interaction with captive killer whales has come under scrutiny since Feb. 24, when a large male orca with a checkered past killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando by dragging her into a tank.
    Years of tediously difficult research has given scientists some understanding of killer whales -- but also has made them aware of how little they know about the creatures.For starters, there's puzzlement over exactly how to categorize them.
    They swim the world's oceans -- they are more widely distributed than any whale, dolphin or porpoise -- in at least three distinct populations. There are fish-eating orcas that stay in one area, flesh-eaters that wander more widely along coasts, and a third group that roams the deep-blue waters.
    The three groups have starkly different diets, languages, hunting techniques and manners of behaving around other marine life, and they don't seem to interact much with one another.

    Yet the orcas' DNA tells a different story. Instead of the world's varied populations having genetics that spread outward like a tree with several main branches, theirs is but a single, nearly straight trunk, except for a mismatched pair of genes here and there.
    If genetic variety isn't what makes these killer-whale groups so different, scientists suspect, their enormous brains might be the telltale factor.Hal Whitehead, a biology professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, awakened the world of cetacean research in 2001 when he co-authored a controversial paper that suggested no species other than humans are as "cultural" as orcas."Culture is about learning from others," Whitehead said. "A cultural species starts behaving differently than a species where everything is determined genetically."
    One example of a killer-whale culture, he said, is the teaching of a particularly difficult and dangerous hunting technique observed by researchers on Antarctic islands. They watched as mothers repeatedly pushed their young onto beaches in pursuit of seals and sometimes had to drag their stranded young back into the water.
    " also are quite conservative animals," he added. "If this is the way they do things, then they are quite loath to do it another way."That last point, he said, is important to consider when it comes to orcas held in captivity.
    Equally remarkable to researchers is the orca's ability to communicate with whistles and pulsed calls, and to "see" by making a clicking sound that works like sonar.Many cetaceans -- whales, dolphins and porpoises included -- have these abilities to some degree. But orcas learn local and complex languages that are retained for many generations. And their bio-sonar, or echolocation, abilities also amaze researchers.
    Professor Whitlow Au, of the University of Hawaii's Marine Mammal Research Program, finished a study recently adding to evidence that orcas can use their bio-sonar not just to find fish in murky water and not just to single out salmon, but to identify their favorite meal: Chinook salmon.
    Sam Ridgway, a neurobiologist and research veterinarian at San Diego's National Marine Mammal Foundation, which works for the Navy, said the orca brain has a relatively smaller amount of cerebral cortex -- the gray matter involved in memory, attention and thought -- than the human brain does. But it has large-diameter myelinated axons, which carry nerve impulses."The bigger the axon, the faster the nerve impulses travel."
    Patrick Hof, vice chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, summed up the orca noodle as a "big brain, a really big brain" with enormous capacity.
    My comment: Very interesting. I didn't have any idea how complex orcas society actually is. I knew they take care of the offspring together, but that was all. If they have different languages and habits and all those capacity for intellect, I don't understand how it could be allowed for people to keep them in captivity. We need to study them and sometimes watching them in their natural habitat is not enough, but should we keep them for entertainment? Basically, we make slaves of them. And that's so sad.

    Heroic altruistic ants face death alone to save colony

    By Matt Walker Editor, Earth News

    Ants live altruistically, but some die altruistically too.
    When ants of the species Temnothorax unifasciatus get sick, they abandon their nest, walking far away from their relatives to die alone.
    They perform this act of heroism to prevent the illness that is killing them from spreading to the colony.
    The discovery, published in Current Biology, is the first time that such behaviour has been shown in ants or any other social insect.
    Such behaviour has been reported in dogs, cats, elephants and even people.
    But because it happens occasionally, it cannot be quantifiably studied.
    So Prof Heinze decided to set up an experiment to study the phenomenon in ants, which he also noticed would occasionally leave the colony for no apparent reason.
    The researchers exposed a colony of Temnothorax unifasciatus ants reared in their laboratory to the spores of a lethal parasitic fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae.
    Most of the workers who died from the fungal infection permanently left the nest hours or days before death, and died in a foraging area far from their nest mates.
    "Our study suggests that infected ants at least in some species walk away from a colony and die alone, rather than risk infecting others," Prof Heinze told the BBC.
    Crucially, the researchers were able to rule out the possibility that the fungus itself caused the diseased ants to walk away.
    Many parasites manipulate their hosts in order to increase their own transmission.
    Flu viruses make people cough, while in ants, one cordyceps fungus effectively turns its victims into zombies, impelling ants to climb up a stem where they die.

    But by exposing the ants to CO2, the researchers artificially reduced their lifespan.
    Uninfected ants who survived this treatment, but still knew they would die prematurely, also left the nest before death took hold, proving the fungus itself did not drive them out.
    "Another interesting finding was that the workers left the nest voluntarily and were not carried away by other workers," he writes in the same issue of the journal. By choosing to face death alone, the ants were making a truly altruistic act.
    That is important because the exact opposite has been found in the bumblebee, another social insect.
    Bees infected by fly larvae move out of the hive into colder air.
    But in doing so, the cold temperatures slow the lifecycle of the parasite.
    So the infected bees are actually trying to extend their own lives, rather than save their nest mates.
    The heroic act by the terminally ill ants is the latest in a line of extraordinary behaviours discovered among social insects.
    In order to help protect close relatives, termites have been found to explode during fights, bees die after stinging, while the members of another species of ant have been found to condemn themselves to death by sealing in a nesting colony from the outside. source
    My comment: How about that?! I think the line between humans and all other species gets tinner with every new discovery. After all, how much people would go away from their home and city, to die alone, just to be able to save the others? Few will do it. But not everyone. So it's amazing the little ants do that automatically. Amazing and little sad. 

    Ravens console each other after fights

    May 18, 2010 by Lin Edwards
     ( -- A new study investigating the behavior of ravens has found strong evidence that after conflicts bystanders appear to console and relieve the distress of victims with whom they have a relationship, and that victims are likely to seek affiliations with bystanders. The results suggest ravens may be sensitive to the emotions of others.
    Many species of birds fight aggressively from time to time over resources, to assert , and so on, but such conflicts can waste valuable energy, cause injuries, and damage relationships that are usually mutually beneficial. One way of reducing the cost of conflicts is through reconciliation and through consoling victims, but until relatively recently such behaviors were thought to be unique to humans.
    Previous studies of rooks have shown that pair-bonded birds do show such behaviors, so the researchers chose ravens to see if the same kinds of behaviors occurred in birds that were not paired, because ravens live up to ten years in socially complex before pairing off.
    A statistical analysis of the observations showed the affiliations were randomly timed and did not appear to be a deliberate attempt to reduce the tension. Victims soliciting affiliations were at greater risk of renewed aggression by their attacker immediately after conflict, but if they solicited affiliations from other members of the flock renewed aggression was less likely to occur. The researchers also found that victims did not attack other birds, so there was little risk involved in approaching them, and many members of the flock offered affiliation spontaneously, especially if they were related or regularly spent a lot of time together. Surprisingly, unsolicited affiliations did not reduce the likelihood of renewed aggression.
    My comment:Interesting, but I wonder if the statistics actually points to compassion and so on or to merely random affiliation between individual birds. But still, I find it interesting that even birds can show compassion. After all, they are so small. But it's very interesting that the victims affiliate with bystanders and not with aggressors, as one would naively expect. Obviously whatever they fight for is important enough to keep them separated.  

    Scientists discover first multicellular life that doesn't need oxygen

    April 7, 2010 by Lisa Zyga -- Oxygen may not be the staple of modern complex life that scientists once thought. Until now, the only life forms known to live exclusively in anoxic conditions were viruses, bacteria and Archaea. But in a new study, scientists have discovered three new multicellular marine species that appear to have never lived in aerobic conditions, and never metabolized oxygen.
    The discovery of the new species, which live buried in sediment under the Mediterranean , is significant in that it marks the first observation of multicellular organisms, or metazoans, that spend their entire lifecycle under permanently anoxic conditions. A few metazoans have been known to tolerate anoxic conditions, but only for limited periods of time.
    The team of Italian and Danish researchers, Roberto Danovaro, et al., that discovered the new life forms has identified the creatures as belonging to the animal phylum Loricifera, the most recently described animal phylum. Loriciferans, which have a length of less than one millimeter, typically live in sediment. The three new organisms belong to different genera (Spinoloricus, Rugiloricus, and Pliciloricus), although their species have not yet been named.
    Despite belonging to previously known taxonomic groups, the new species possess some radical differences compared with other metazoans. Most significantly, the new species do not have mitochondria, the cellular organelles that use and sugar to generate the cell’s energy. Instead, the new loriciferans have organelles that resemble hydrogenosomes, which are used by some single-celled eukaryotes to generate energy without oxygen. However, this is the first time that these organelles have been observed in multicellular organisms. Previous research has indicated that hydrogenosomes may have evolved from mitochondria, while other research suggests they evolved independently.
    The researchers focused on an area called the L’Atalante basin, which is located off the southern coast of Greece. As the scientists explain, this type of “deep hypersaline anoxic basin” was created by the flooding of mineral sediments from 5.5 million years ago. For the past 50,000 years, the basin has possessed a dense hypersaline brine layer up to 60 meters thick. The brine serves as a physical barrier that prohibits oxygen exchange between the water and , making the basin completely oxygen-free. In addition, the basin is rich in methane and hydrogen sulphide, and is also home to a diverse assembly of prokaryotes that have adapted to these conditions.
    Because previous studies have reported the presence of cadaverous metazoans that had sunk to anoxic deep-sea sediments in the Black Sea, the researchers here stained the newly collected specimens with Rose Bengal, a protein binding stain that colors living organisms with a much greater intensity than deceased organisms, demonstrating that the new species were indeed alive. In addition, the scientists observed specimens of the undescribed species of both genera Spinoloricus and Rugiloricus that had a large oocyte in their ovary, which showed a nucleus containing a nucleolus, providing evidence of reproduction. source
    My comment: WOW! I didn't know that lurks underneath the Black Sea. I had suspicions about the flooding of Black Sea, but that's much more than I ever hoped for. Because if you think about it, that organism is hardly Earh-like. For a little explanation, Black Sea depths are like very few other places on the world (another example are the blue holes on the Bahamas) - they are essentially deadly for anything we know. There's no oxigen, only methan and sulfur. It's the closest thing to alien world with normal temperature we can imagine on Earth. And still, there are living organisms in it! What's more, this is a multicellular oragnism. I wonder if there are bigger organisms as well. And what kind of odd creatures they will be! But in any case, if we believe the theory that the Black Sea was flooded approximately 5-7000 years ago, that means that we observed evolution in under 10 000 years! How cool is that! 

    World's largest, most complex marine virus is major player in ocean ecosystems: research

    October 25, 2010
    UBC researchers have identified the world's largest marine virus--an unusually complex 'mimi-like virus' that infects an ecologically important and widespread planktonic predator.
    Cafeteria roenbergensis has a genome larger than those found in some cellular organisms, and boasts genetic complexity that blurs the distinction between "non-living" and "living" entities.
    "Virus are classically thought of small, simple organisms in terms of the number of genes they carry," says UBC professor Curtis Suttle, an expert in marine microbiology and environmental virology and lead author of the study.
    "Much of the we found in this virus you would only expect to find in living, cellular organisms, including many genes required to produce DNA, RNA, proteins and sugars."
    The findings are reported in this week's issue of the .
    Viruses cannot replicate outside of living host cells and they depend on proteins provided by the cell, a boundary that is often used to delineate "non-living" from "living" organisms. Giant viruses challenge this definition, as they still need a cell to replicate, but encode in their own genome most of the proteins required for replication.
    Discovered in Texas coastal waters in the early 1990s, Curtis and his team where able to determine that the pathogen's genome contains approximately 730,000 base pairs. That makes Cafeteria roenbergensis virus the largest known marine virus, and the second largest known virus, after the fresh water-borne Acanthamoeba polyphaga , which weighs in at 1.2 million base pairs.
    Cafeteria roenbergensis virus also infects a major marine zooplankter which occupies a key position in marine food webs.source
    My comment: 730 000 base pairs. Pretty big virus is that. As I already have said, I think we know way too little about viruses and their role in the life cycle. So every new discovery is another door opened to our understanding of life itself. 

    First case of animals making their own carotene

    April 29, 2010

    The insects known as aphids can make their own essential nutrients called carotenoids, according to University of Arizona researchers.

    No other animals are known to make the potent antioxidants. Until now scientists thought the only way animals could obtain the orangey-red compounds was from their diet. source


    Sunday, 14 November 2010

    Electrodes melt in between you brain and more, 2010

    Mars, people! Mars!
    Image: Chocolate Hills

    NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell


    1. Hopes soar for burn victims as 'mother' of all skin cells found
    2. Gene bandage rejuvenates wasted muscle
    3. Chemical cocktail affects humans and the environment
    4. A brain-recording device that melts into place
    5. MEMS device generates power from body heat
    6. Bladeless wind turbine inspired by Tesla

    Hopes soar for burn victims as 'mother' of all skin cells found

    Scientists have found the "mother", or origin, of all skin cells and say their discovery could dramatically improve skin treatments for victims of wounds and burns.

    Hans Clevers and a team of Dutch and Swedish researchers conducted a study in mice and found that Lrg6, the stem cell that produces all the different cells of the skin, actually lives in hair follicles.

    The findings, which they say will translate for human use, mean it may be possible to harness these stem cells to help with wound repair or skin transplants for burns victims, they said in a study in the Science journal on Thursday.

    The skin has three different populations of cells — hair follicles, moisturizing sebaceous glands, and the tissue in between, known as the interfollicular epidermis.

    Clevers said the advantage offered by the "mother" stem cell finding would be that they could grow skin from its original basis — allowing it to be "real new skin" with moisture from sebaceous glands and the ability to grow hair. He said experts now need to learn how to isolate the Lrg6 cells from human skin. source

    My comment: Cool! Really, really cool. I had burns, I know how difficult they heal and how painful they are. So as always, this is a great hope for better medicine. Just not on what strange place they found it. In the hair!

    Gene bandage rejuvenates wasted muscle

    Around 1 in 3500 boys are born with DMD, the result of mutations in a gene on the X chromosome for the protein dystrophin. Boys with DMD tend to need wheelchairs by age 12 and die of cardiac or respiratory failure before they reach 30.
    Rather than trying to correct the genetic defects, Wilton's team created nucleic acid snippets that bind to sections of messenger RNA corresponding to the DMD mutations. If injected, these bandages cause the mutations, which normally prevent dystrophin production, to be skipped over during protein-making.
    In 2003 the approach seemed to work in mice. In 2009, injecting the snippets into the foot muscle of seven boys with DMD triggered dystrophin production there. Now the team has injected the snippets into the blood of 20 boys with DMD.
    Last week, Wilton told the World Congress of Internal Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, that tissue biopsies suggest dystrophin is being produced throughout the bodies of boys who received high doses of the bandage.
    It is not yet clear if the dystrophin will increase the boys' muscle strength, but Wilton points out it did in animals.  source
    My comment: Nice, huh?! I love telling about working treatments. Because most of the time, there are announcements of great breakthrough that need years or decades to reach common people. Well, this one is almost there. 

    Chemical cocktail affects humans and the environment

    March 29, 2010
    Throughout our lives we are exposed to an enormous range of man-made chemicals, from food, water, medicines, cosmetics, clothes, shoes and the air we breathe. At the request of the EU, researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have looked at the risk of "chemical cocktails" and have proposed a number of measures that need to be implemented in the current practice of chemical risk assessment.
    In 2005 an American study showed that newborn babies have an average of 200 non-natural chemicals in their blood - including pesticides, dioxins, and . In a Swedish study, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences found 57 different pesticides in Swedish rivers and streams, many of them occurring simultaneously. However, the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment are traditionally evaluated on the basis of single substances, chemical by chemical.

    The European Commission has been tasked with producing recommendations in 2010 on how combinations of hormone-disrupting substances should be dealt with on the basis of existing legislation, and with assessing suitable legislative changes in 2011.

    In order to map out the current situation, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the University of London carried out a review of the state of the art of mixture toxicology and ecotoxicology. The study showed that all the relevant research is unambiguous: the combined "cocktail effect" of is greater and more toxic than the effect of the chemicals individually.

    "Assessing every conceivable combination is not therefore realistic, and predictive approaches must be implemented in risk assessment. " source
    My comment: Any surprise here? No, not at all. We all know that chemical cocktails ought to react different with out body that the single chemicals in them. But nobody researched and nobody cared, because nobody wanted to put breaks to the overgrowing chemical industry. Well, happy us, now we have a boom of cancers, allergies and weird diseases. Obviously we cannot ban every chemical cocktail, because that will bring us back 2 centuries ago. What we can do is to at least take the most frequent combinations and to study them in detail. And then to look for patterns and to build models. If we want to keep humans and Nature healthy and safe, that is.

    A brain-recording device that melts into place

    April 18, 2010

    Scientists have developed a brain implant that essentially melts into place, snugly fitting to the brain's surface. The technology could pave the way for better devices to monitor and control seizures, and to transmit signals from the brain past damaged parts of the spinal cord.
    The study, published in , shows that the ultrathin flexible implants, made partly from silk, can record more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics.
    The simplest devices for recording from the brain are needle-like electrodes that can penetrate deep into brain tissue. More state-of-the-art devices, called micro-electrode arrays, consist of dozens of semi-flexible wire electrodes, usually fixed to rigid silicon grids that do not conform to the brain's shape.
    In people with epilepsy, the arrays could be used to detect when seizures first begin, and deliver pulses to shut the seizures down. In people with injuries, the technology has promise for reading complex signals in the brain that direct movement, and routing those signals to healthy muscles or prosthetic devices.
    "The focus of our study was to make ultrathin arrays that conform to the complex shape of the brain, and limit the amount of tissue damage and inflammation," said Brian Litt, M.D., an author on the study and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. The silk-based implants developed by Dr. Litt and his colleagues can hug the brain like shrink wrap, collapsing into its grooves and stretching over its rounded surfaces.
    The implants contain metal electrodes that are 500 microns thick, or about five times the thickness of a human hair. The absence of sharp electrodes and rigid surfaces should improve safety, with less damage to brain tissue.
    Recently, the team described a flexible silicon device for recording from the heart and detecting an abnormal heartbeat.
    In the future, the researchers hope to design implants that are more densely packed with electrodes to achieve higher resolution recordings.sourceMy comment: That sounds very very creepy. I know it's a good research, good science and good product, but still, it's very very spooky to think of ultra-thin electrodes that melt in between you brain. Brrr. But from the other side, if they can help people with brain damage and/or to lead to new computer interface, I guess we'll have to swallow our disgust and say "Wepee".

    MEMS device generates power from body heat

    April 29, 2010 By Lisa Zyga
    ( -- In an attempt to develop a power source that is compact, environmentally friendly, and has an unlimited lifetime, a team of researchers from Singapore has fabricated an energy harvesting device that generates electricity from body heat or any environment where there is a temperature gradient. Their device, called a thermoelectric power generator, attaches to the body and generates a power output of a few microwatts, which could be useful for powering implanted medical devices and wireless sensors. source

    Bladeless wind turbine inspired by Tesla

    May 7, 2010 by Lisa Zyga

    ( -- A bladeless wind turbine whose only rotating component is a turbine/driveshaft could generate power at a cost comparable to coal-fired power plants, according to its developers at Solar Aero. The New Hampshire-based company recently announced its patent on the Fuller wind turbine, which is an improvement on a patent issued to Nikola Tesla in 1913.

    The bladeless wind turbine is completely enclosed in a relatively small compact unit. Instead of using wind-powered blades to rotate a shaft and generator, the Tesla-inspired design consists of an array of closely spaced, parallel, thin metal disks separated by spacers. When air flows in the spaces between the disks, the spacers are arranged in such a way as to provide inward momentum to the air, causing the disks to move. The disks are connected to a shaft by spokes, so that the rotating disks cause the shaft to rotate as well. As explained in the patent held by Howard Fuller, the turbine design “provides in converting to mechanical power.” source
    My comment: That also sound pretty cool and I would gladly buy something like this. Big wind turbines are kind of ugly, something more compact will be more unobtrusive to the eye (and probably the ear). Though, with those serious investments in the wind power, I think the efficiency must be really really good in order for that product to earn money to the creators and to get introduced on the market. Well, good luck!

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    Archaeological summer 2010, Part 1

    1. Important archaeological finds at Knossos
    2. Newly Discovered Archaeological Sites In India Reveals Ancient Life
    3. Ancient Texts Present Mayans As Literary Geniuses
    4. A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets
    5. 4,500-year-old Harappan settlement excavated in Kutch
    6. Bulgarian Archaeologists Make Breakthrough in Ancient Thrace Tomb
     Important archaeological finds at Knossos
    Geophysical studies at Kefala Hill in the Knossos archaeological site on Crete island, have revealed findings of the most ancient farm houses in Greece, and perhaps in all of Europe, dating back between 7,000- 6,400 BC.source
    My comment: Of course, we're not talking about anything GREEK, because during that time, there were no Greece in any form. That's a Pelasgians settlement and I think the news should announce that clearly. Even though if you read Wikipedia you get the impression those guys were some ancient Greeks - they weren't. Those are the inhabitants of the Balkans before the Greek arrived. And since they spoke similar languages and since some of the islands they lived on are proved to be Thracian we can safely assume that they belonged to the same group, if they weren't the same people. But anyway, they are not Greek.
    Newly Discovered Archaeological Sites In India Reveals Ancient Life
    LONDON, Feb 23, 2010 (Bernama) -- Newly discovered archaeological sites in southern and northern India have revealed how people lived before and after the colossal Toba volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago, according to Press Trust of India (PTI) on Tuesday.
    "This suggests that human populations were present in India prior to 74,000 years ago, or about 15,000 years earlier than expected based on some genetic clocks," said project director Michael Petraglia, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford.
    Stone tool analysis has revealed that the artefacts consist of cores and flakes, which are classified in India as Middle Palaeolithic and are similar to those made by modern humans in Africa.The fact that the Middle Palaeolithic tools of similar styles are found right before and after the Toba super-eruption, suggests that the people who survived the eruption were the same populations, using the same kinds of tools, says Petraglia.
    The research agrees with evidence that other human ancestors, such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the small brained Hobbits in Southeastern Asia, continued to survive well after Toba. source
    My comment: Ok, I never heard of Toba eruption but it hardly matters. What's important is that they keep on finding earlier and earlier signs of human life on Earth. I find this quite exciting.

    Ancient Texts Present Mayans As Literary Geniuses

    March 5, 2010
    ( -- Literary critics, cultural scholars and aficionados of the Mayans, the only fully literate people of the pre-Columbian Americas, have lined up to call the first fully illustrated survey of two millennia of Mayan texts assembled by award-winning scholar Dennis Tedlock, "stunning," "astounding," "groundbreaking" and "literally breathtaking."

    The book is "2000 Years of Mayan Literature," published in January by the University of California Press. Its author, a SUNY Distinguished Professor, James McNulty Chair in English and Research Professor in Anthropology at the University at Buffalo, has long been recognized as one of the world's principle experts in Mayan culture and literature.
    In "2000 Years," a beautifully illustrated and highly readable book, Tedlock makes the intellectual world of the ancient Mayans visible and meaningful in distinctive new ways.
    His most notable accomplishment is that he establishes for the first time that two millennia of Mayan writings produced in various writing systems and media -- from stone glyphs and paper documents produced in the post-Columbian Roman alphabet -- constitute a single literary history and tradition.
    He describes what Mayans dreamed and the stories they told themselves about astronomy, math, medicine and other sciences to history, mythology, poetry and spiritual practice.Tedlock says part of his inspiration lies with the late Linda Schele, an expert in the field of Maya epigraphy and iconography whose role in the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphics he considers invaluable.
    He presents the material chronologically, beginning with early "calculiform" hieroglyphic materials and moving on to paper codices considered "works of the devil" by the Spanish, who systematically destroyed most of them. Tedlock also considers literature written in their native languages by Christianized Mayans after the Spanish conquest, and ends with writings composed by contemporary Mayans, whose literature is not only thriving, but experiencing a renaissance.The author drew on his decades of work among the Mayans and the work of major scholars in this field, to assemble the book, and to challenges a number of other commonly held assumptions about this culture.
    He firmly establishes, for instance, that many Mayan writers (not just a few) were women, and that Mayan inscriptions on monuments were not just the abstract speculations of priests or stories of royal life, but descriptions of the lives of every day flesh and blood human beings. Tedlock says they also simultaneously describe events in the skies among the gods.
    He also challenges notions that Mayan rulers claimed the status of gods, claiming that inscriptions previously cited by scholars as describing the kings as gods are actually accounts of their good deeds as religious practitioners.
    "It is clear that these rulers were not considered gods, nor did they claim to be gods," says Tedlock. "Rather, they were priest-kings whose role was to mediate between men and gods.". source
    My comment: Wow, this book for sure is a must-read. I just wonder how expensive it would be. And I find it quite interesting both that the writers were women (contrary to European tradition) and the role of kings as mediators between men and gods. It resembles the role of Thracian kings - to give immortality to men. Very interesting, indeed.

    A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets

    In the middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4,000 years ago, yet their bodies have been well preserved by the dry air.

    The cemetery lies in what is now China’s northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world’s largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. And where tombstones might stand, declaring pious hope for some god’s mercy in the afterlife, their cemetery sports instead a vigorous forest of phallic symbols, signaling an intense interest in the pleasures or utility of procreation.
    The long-vanished people have no name, because their origin and identity are still unknown. But many clues are now emerging about their ancestry, their way of life and even the language they spoke.
    Their graveyard, known as Small River Cemetery No. 5, lies near a dried-up riverbed in the Tarim Basin, a region encircled by forbidding mountain ranges. Most of the basin is occupied by the Taklimakan Desert, a wilderness so inhospitable that later travelers along the Silk Road would edge along its northern or southern borders.
    In modern times the region has been occupied by Turkish-speaking Uighurs, joined in the last 50 years by Han settlers from China.
    The 200 or so mummies have a distinctively Western appearance, and the Uighurs, even though they did not arrive in the region until the 10th century, have cited them to claim that the autonomous region was always theirs. Some of the mummies, including a well-preserved woman known as the Beauty of Loulan, were analyzed by Li Jin, a well-known geneticist at Fudan University, who said in 2007 that their DNA contained markers indicating an East Asian and even South Asian origin.
    The mummies in the Small River Cemetery are, so far, the oldest discovered in the Tarim Basin. Carbon tests done at Beijing University show that the oldest part dates to 3,980 years ago. A team of Chinese geneticists has analyzed the mummies’ DNA.
    Despite the political tensions over the mummies’ origin, the Chinese said in a report published last month in the journal BMC Biology that the people were of mixed ancestry, having both European and some Siberian genetic markers, and probably came from outside China.
    All the men who were analyzed had a Y chromosome that is now mostly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia, but rarely in China. The mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the female line, consisted of a lineage from Siberia and two that are common in Europe. Since both the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA lineages are ancient, Dr. Zhou and his team conclude the European and Siberian populations probably intermarried before entering the Tarim Basin some 4,000 years ago.
    In the women’s coffins, the Chinese archaeologists encountered one or more life-size wooden phalluses laid on the body or by its side.
    The men’s boats, on the other hand, all lay beneath the poles with bladelike tops. These were not the oars they had seemed at first sight, the Chinese archaeologists concluded, but rather symbolic vulvas that matched the opposite sex symbols above the women’s boats.
    Several items in the Small River Cemetery burials resemble artifacts or customs familiar in Europe, Dr. Mair noted. Boat burials were common among the Vikings. String skirts and phallic symbols have been found in Bronze Age burials of Northern Europe. There are no known settlements near the cemetery, so the people probably lived elsewhere and reached the cemetery by boat. No woodworking tools have been found at the site, supporting the idea that the poles were carved off site.
    The Tarim Basin was already quite dry when the Small River people entered it 4,000 years ago. They probably lived at the edge of survival until the lakes and rivers on which they depended finally dried up around A.D. 400. Burials with felt hats and woven baskets were common in the region until some 2,000 years ago.
    The language spoken by the people of the Small River Cemetery is unknown, but Dr. Mair believes it could have been Tokharian, an ancient member of the Indo-European family of languages. Manuscripts written in Tokharian have been discovered in the Tarim Basin, where the language was spoken from about A.D. 500 to 900. Despite its presence in the east, Tokharian seems more closely related to the “centum” languages of Europe than to the “satem” languages of India and Iran. The division is based on the words for hundred in Latin (centum) and in Sanskrit (satam).
    The Small River Cemetery people lived more than 2,000 years before the earliest evidence for Tokharian, but there is “a clear continuity of culture,” Dr. Mair said, in the form of people being buried with felt hats, a tradition that continued until the first few centuries A.D.
    My comment: Very very interesting. Especially the Tokharian language which so closely sounds like Thrakian - just its name, not the very language which should be researched. But seriously, it's so interesting. There are theories backed up by some historians saying that there were expeditions from the Balkans to India at some ancient time. Wouldn't it be interesting to know where those expeditions went and why?

    4,500-year-old Harappan settlement excavated in Kutch
    Ahmedabad, Mar 7 (PTI)

    A vast settlement surrounded by a fortified structure believed to be about 4,500 years old and belonging to the Harappan civilisation has been excavated at Shikarpur village in Kutch district.
    "A huge fortified structure made out of unbaked mud bricks has been excavated by our team. The ratio of height, width and length of the bricks is 1:2:4 which is what we call Harappan ratio," Ajithprasad told PTI.
    "The fortification is spread over nearly one hectare area, with 10 m thick walls," he said.
    "Though the exact period when this structure could have been constructed is yet to be ascertained, primarily it appears to be roughly 4500-years-old, built between 2500 BC and 2200 BC and is part of the Harappan civilisation," Ajithprasad said. source
    My comment:

    Bulgarian Archaeologists Make Breakthrough in Ancient Thrace Tomb

    One of Bulgaria’s top Ancient Thrace sites, the Starosel Tomb, has been dated to the 4th century BC after years of research.
    With German help a team of archaeologists of the Bulgarian National History Museum led by Dr. Ivan Hristov has managed to estimate the timing of the construction of the largest underground temple on the Balkan Peninsula, the Starosel Tomb, located in the Hisarya Municipality, Plovdiv District.
    In the summer of 2009, the archaeological team took samples from a stake in the middle of the tomb where gifts to the Greek goddess of the hearth Hestia were laid.
    The radio carbon dating analysis carried out in Heidelberg, Germany, in the laboratory of Dr. Bernd Krommer, have shown that the stake was burned in the period after 358 BC, when the temple was constructed, and the earth was heaped on top of it to form a burial mound.
    The analysis of the lab research and of the events which happened at that time have given archaeologist Ivan Hristov grounds to conclude that the temple in the village of Starosel, in the so called Chetinyova Mound, and the nearby Thracian ruler’s residence under Mount Kozi Gramadi were built during the reign of the Thracian King Amatokos II (359-351 BC), of the Thracian Odrysian state (5th-3rd century BC).
    The family coat of arms of King Amatokos was a doubleheaded ax, or a labrys. Symbols of a labrys were discovered on several items around Starosel, including Thracian coins.
    The archaeologists believe that the region was the power center of Ancient Thrace in the 4th century BC. It was destroyed during the rise of the Macedonian state of Philip II in 342-341 BC.The Bulgarian archaeologists have reconstructed the so called “Holy Road” of the Thracians leading to their underground temples in Starosel, and are determined to continue revealing its secrets.
    My comment: Hm, how did they understand the Temple is dedicated to Greek Goddess? That doesn't make sense at all? Thracians had enough god and goddesses and to put a Greek one on their Holy Road sounds absolutely crazy. Even more, if it's the same temple I've been to, it looked much more Egyptian than Greek. Though maybe I'm wrong, I'm not an expert, it just looks weird. Besides, at that time, deities were transferred from one people to the others and often, their meaning changed in the process, so who knows...
    More evidence unearthed at ancient port of Muziris - A figure of a pouncing lion carved in great detail on a semi precious stone and a bright micro metal object with intricate designs are two of the special objects found during the ongoing excavations that began in February. Copper antimony rods, usually associated with cosmetic use, were also found.
    Kerala's possible Mediterranean links unearthed by researchers
    News Date: 9th March 2010
    A wide range of megalithic burials recently discovered in some northern districts of Kerala during a research project have thrown light on possible links between the Mediterranean and Kerala coasts in the prehistoric stone age that occurred between 6000 BC and 2000 BC. 
    Interestingly, the finds were unearthed at a time when the researchers have firmly established the maritime links between the Mediterranean region with Kerala since ancient times.  source